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January 21, 2013

Tide ready for Kentucky

TUSCALOOSA | From some of the pregame hyperbole, one would hardly suspect that tonight's basketball game between the University of Alabama and Kentucky was a matchup between two teams with RPI ratings in the 50s (Kentucky comes in at No. 52, Alabama tied for No. 58) rather than a Final Four matchup.

Kentucky coach John Calipari praised Alabama's backcourt tandem of Trevor Releford and Trevor Lacey as being "as good as any (guards) in America." Alabama coach Anthony Grant called Kentucky "a great team," pointing to the five double-figure scorers and defensive strength of the Wildcats. TUSCALOOSA | From some of the pregame hyperbole, one would hardly suspect that tonight's basketball game between the University of Alabama and Kentucky was a matchup between two teams with RPI ratings in the 50s (Kentucky comes in at No. 52, Alabama tied for No. 58) rather than a Final Four matchup.

Kentucky coach John Calipari praised Alabama's backcourt tandem of Trevor Releford and Trevor Lacey as being "as good as any (guards) in America." Alabama coach Anthony Grant called Kentucky "a great team," pointing to the five double-figure scorers and defensive strength of the Wildcats.

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Making allowances for some "coachspeak," though, this is an intriguing matchup of two teams that went through some early adjustments but are vying to be in Southeastern Conference contention along with early leaders Florida and Ole Miss. The fact that Kentucky is the defending NCAA champion - albeit with a significantly altered cast - and the SEC's perennial powerhouse adds to the excitement of the game. Alabama has won three SEC games in a row and Kentucky comes in off one of its more impressive games of the year, a blowout of Auburn on Saturday.

Grant said at his Monday press conference that it is the immediate present, not the glories of UK's past, that have him anticipating the contest.

"I get excited about every game, and every game, to me, that we play is the biggest game on our schedule," Grant said. "That doesn't take anything away from Kentucky or Texas A&M or any other team we play. We are certainly proud to be a member of the SEC and proud they won the national championship, but at the same time we are competitors. Our mindset is that we are going to go out and prepare the best we can in order to have a chance to win."

That will start with dealing with the formidable presence of Nerlens Noel, the Wildcats' 6-foot-9 freshman center and the SEC's leading shot-blocker. Grant compared Noel to Anthony Davis, the star of last year's Kentucky team and the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.

"They are very similar when you look at the numbers," Grant said. "But what is really impressive is his number of steals. He has length and can block shots (4.1 per game), but he also has great hands."

The Wildcats did suffer a surprising home loss to Texas A&M, a team Alabama defeated in its last outing, but Grant discounted that result.

"This is a different game, a different setting and we are a different team," Grant said. "We can't take too much from that."

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or. 205-722-0225.



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