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No. 1 Kentucky Faces No. 2 Michigan State in Champions Classic


UK’s showdown with the second-ranked Spartans is the first 1-2 matchup of Associated Press ranked teams since Feb. 23, 2008, when Memphis, then coached by John Calipari, and Tennessee met. The 2013 meeting between Kentucky and Michigan State will earn the recognition as the earliest meetings between the top-two ranked teams in the country in the history of the AP poll.

Gary Harris flourished, as expected, scoring 15 of his 20 points in the first half and finishing with a career-high 10 rebounds to help No. 2 Michigan State beat McNeese State 98-56 on Friday night in a tuneup for its next game against top-ranked Kentucky.

The Spartans, though, were pleasantly surprised by how well Branden Dawson and Travis Trice played in the season-opening rout.

Dawson scored 12 points, grabbed 12 rebounds - one shy of his career high - and had a career-high five assists.

Trice scored 11 points and had a career-high eight assists.

The Michigan State - Kentucky Series

Kentucky and Michigan State have met on the hardwood 22 times with the Cats owning a slight edge in the series by a 12-10 margin. Michigan State has won six of the last 10 meetings, with four of those wins for the Spartans coming under the direction of Tom Izzo.

The two teams last squared off during the 2005 NCAA Tournament when the game needed two overtimes to determine a winner. The Spartans prevailed in a 94-88 win.

In neutral site meetings, the series is tied 2-2. The two teams have never met in Chicago.

Pregame Media Opportunity - November 11, 2013

Head Coach John Calipari

On the excitement of the game…
“I am excited. The things in a game like this, with this team, questions are answered. I don't think they are going to say I wonder if they have a talented team, let’s watch, they know. So then the question is about how we play together, how hard we play, how we deal with adversity and how we deal with prosperity, questions will be answered tomorrow. You are playing against a well-coached team, Tommy (Izzo) does a great job and has a veteran team.”

On what UK has to do offset Michigan State’s experience…
“Well whatever we have in which isn’t much, just do well with what we have and let’s worry about us. Knowing you have to run back first then you have to guard them. They’re a terrific 3-point shooting team; they have got big people, and you know their front line is as big as ours. You have to guard them. They run their stuff. They run their little back screens, their curl cuts, they get the ball from one side, they do pick and rolls that are really effective and their guards shoot it. You can’t go under pick and rolls, their guards will come up shooting.”

On how this might be (Tom) Izzo’s best running team…
“They fly up and down the court and the guys that are out ahead can make plays and they have a four man who can a post. So whether they run them to the block or they trail them, you’ve got to guard people. Like if someone loses a man that’s a 3.”

On having a Julius Randle…
“My thing dealing with Julius right now, who has had two pretty good games, that team they will know how to take him away. They are going to double team him and they are going to be really physical. They are going to sag and make him take jumpers. They are going to be really tight, but you have Dakari (Johnson) you can throw it to in the post and even Willie (Cauley-Stein). I mean we do have some post play. We had our guards go 2-for-11 last game; that can’t happen, not in this game. They (Michigan State) won’t go 2-for-11. So at least you have to match them. “

On how familiar UK players are with Michigan State players…
“I gave them tape after the (Northern Kentucky) game, about 10 minutes on their iPads of their (Michigan State’s) game, that’s about it. I am concerned about us. I watched enough tape. Watching last year’s tapes, they aren’t playing that way. They really want it. They are flying up and down the court. They are playing through their guards versus what they did a year ago.”

On how players don’t need to buy into the hype…
“I didn’t mention it. Every game we play is hyped. This is a big deal, but it’s November. I mean how big of a deal is it. It’s our next game. If you lose you move on, you learn from it. The greatest thing for us is we have learned from every game we played so far. You know we are just like this but when it gets like this, where are you now. We are going to find out and we have time to work on it.”

On how closely the team follows his orders at this point in the year …
“Well we came out of a timeout, we were doing some baseline out-of-bounds stuff and I told them exactly what to do and put it on the board and Andrew (Harrison) went the wrong way, my point guard. So I called him back in, ‘you just left the timeout and you went the wrong way and I drew it up.’ That’s what you have when you have a bunch of young kids. But we’re talking a lot about mental discipline, we’re talking a lot about breaking down on defense and offense, we’re talking a lot on sustaining energy and effort and focus. Giving the ball up early, getting to the third drive, all kind of stuff that they need. But this is truly going to be a process, that’s what it’s going to be.”

On the most encouraging thing he has seen from this group …
“That we’ve gotten better, that we’ve taken steps up. That they’ve learned through every game and then we come in and work on things and it becomes them. Like a guy like Andrew (Harrison), it’s now his, it’s not mine. We made a play out there that I said, ‘hey, the five (man) rebounds this is what I want you to yell out and do.’ About seven plays later the five (man) rebounded and he did it. I’m like, wow. So he’s thinking. We don’t have a team full of guys like that but it’s good when your point guard is that way.”

On where his and Michigan State coach Tom Izzo’s relationship comes from …
“Just, you know, we came up the same way, assistant coaches and GA’s, 19th assistant. Knew each other and respected each other. He’s one of those guys that I talk to a lot as the season goes on. He’ll make me laugh, I make him laugh. And the great thing is, we don’t make it personal. It doesn’t mean we don’t go after recruits hard, we’ve lost guys to them, they’ve lost guys to us but it’s never personal. Being able to go back and forth, shouldn’t it be that way? I tell him that it’s not fair for our team to play this early and he says forfeit the game I said OK, I officially forfeit the game, go shopping in Chicago. Sometimes we treat it like life and death, that I’ve got to prove I’m better than this guy or I’ve got to prove I’m better than that guy. Tommy and I aren’t that way, neither one of us. He’s a great coach and he’s a great guy aside from being a great coach.”

On wanting to see his team on the bigger stage …
“Well we’ve got other games coming up after that will be just as bright as this game. You know, we’ll see. That’s why you play the games, so you can figure out where you need to go with your team and thank goodness it’s not football where you lose a couple early, you’re done. Now it’s hey, get your team right, and keep learning about your team. We’ll see after the game. Like I said, I’m encouraged by how we are but I don’t know how that will play out versus a team like Michigan State.”

On James Young looking forward to this game being from Michigan …
“I talked to him today a little bit; I thought he’s pressing offensively for no reason, like he’s got the ultimate green light. No reason to press, you’ve already established who you are as a player. You don’t have to play great every night out, just about every third night out. You’ve established who you are so why would you press? If you don’t shoot open shots I take you out of the game. I think he’s the best shooter in the country now you have to go in games and do it.”

On if he’ll be surprised by how the game goes with all the talent on the floor …
“Oh yeah, this is like who knows? My hope is we play great, that you watch us and say man, for 30 practices for them to play that way, wow. They played hard, they played as a unit. They break down but they scrambled, they didn’t stop playing, they had a great presence, great spirit about them and then we move on. If that’s a win or a loss, I’d like it to be a win, but if it’s a loss and I get that from this team it’s the building point that we go from because right now there are so many things that we haven’t been able to go over and talk about. I can’t clutter their minds, right now we’ve got very little in. This is who we are, this is all we have, let’s make this work.”

On four of the top five teams playing this weekend …
“We’ve had this in the past and they used to do the ‘Great Eight.’ I remember, matter of fact, we played Kentucky when they had 11 NBA players and we won. In Detroit, it was a 2 o’clock game. But again these early games, when you get teams like freshmen and sophomores is it fair for them to go into that? Now, if they feel good about it, then it’s fair. They want to play the game, my guys. They want to see where they are. We’ll learn and that’s the best thing about playing early. You can’t learn against ‘Popcorn State,’ you just can’t. You don’t learn anything. You learn that you’re 30 points better, or 40 points, or 50 points or 57 points. What does it do? But you can learn when you’re playing really good teams.”

On him signing the team up to play in the Champions Classic …
“Yeah, unfortunately and they’ll tell you I tried to get the dates, I didn’t want the date in November this early. So other things we’re doing, we’re trying to move back so that all the teams get a chance to get their stuff together.”



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