Top ten matchup features similar foes



By Kyle Arensdorf

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UK basketball will face its second top-10 opponent, and perhaps its most similar opponent so far this season on Friday, when No. 6 Texas heads to Rupp Arena.

Not only are the heights of the two teams nearly mirror images of each other, their two head coaches have been friends for years and took to the media this week to sing each other’s praises before their “big” matchup.

UK head coach John Calipari, who has taken flak in the past about being less of a great coach and more of a great recruiter, has deployed a two-platoon system this year that has caught the attention of Texas head coach Rick Barnes.

“I’m really just impressed with the way, more than anything, he’s got those guys to buy into what he sees,” Barnes said in a conference call with reporters. “He’s always had a great vision for the way he sees his teams (should) play.”

At his press conference Thursday, Calipari took time to share his mutual admiration.

“He’s always been somebody that I can call when I need to bounce ideas,” he said. “(He’s a) terrific basketball coach. Battler. You watch how hard his teams play, (they) always do.”

Barnes possesses an early season 7-0 record and brings a No. 6 Longhorn team to Lexington that can rival the size of the Cats.

In fact, despite the absence of a 7-footer on its roster, Texas has as many players 6-foot-9 and over (six) as the consensus “biggest team in the nation” does.

“They’re a really big team, so I think it’ll be a challenge for us,” sophomore guard Aaron Harrison said. “But also, I think we’re kind of used to it because we can play each other in practice.”

One other thing Harrison and the other UK guards have gotten used to this season is playing against smaller guards, and Texas will be no different.

The Longhorns give up at least three inches to each of UK’s two starting guards,and have been down a guard since they lost sophomore standout Isaiah Taylor to a knee injury.

“It’s huge. I could sit here and say it’s not. It’s huge,” Barnes said of the absence of Taylor, who was injured in a Nov. 20 win against Iowa.

“(With) his speed, he alleviates a lot of pressure for us, obviously. He’s a guy that (has) confidence and the guys have a lot of belief in his leadership and his confidence, his swagger.”

Although Texas has been without its floor leader for four games, they’ve come out on the other side unscathed and have a win against No. 24 UConn to show for it.

If the Longhorns need any extra motivation for their matchup with the No. 1 Cats, they have the opportunity to be the second team to knock off a top-5 opponent this week.

“It’s going to be a good game (because) they’re a great team,” Harrison said. “I’m just excited to play in the game.”