No school has won more college basketball games than Kentucky.
And, with John Calipari consistently bringing in strong recruiting classes, it’s hard to see the Wildcats losing that claim in the near future.
There’s no question Kentucky is one of the most storied programs and boasts one of the most historic venues in Rupp Arena.
That’s why UT Arlington is excited about its opportunity Tuesday night against the fourth-ranked Wildcats. It’s a rare chance for the Mavericks to play in a big-time college atmosphere and against a team looking to win its second national championship in three years.
“I was watching Kentucky’s game last night and that crowd was ridiculous,” UTA senior guard Reger Dowell said. “So there’ll be a little nerves at first, but we like to step up to the challenge.”
Said coach Scott Cross: “It’s something they’ll remember for the rest of their lifetime to be able to play in a place like that. Those places are special and to be able to play in that environment is special. Who knows? Something great could happen in one of those games.”
Cross went on to talk about his team’s visit to Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse three years ago. Even though the Mavs lost by 25 points, LaMarcus Reed dunked on Thomas Robinson, the Jayhawks’ star forward at the time, and that play became the ‘dunk of the night’ on SportsCenter.
“That’s where his career really took an upward swing,” Cross said. “He was a different player after we played that game and he had that dunk.”
Another similar moment could happen again, although the Mavs are going in with upset on their minds.
In order to pull off the school’s first victory over a ranked opponent, the Mavs know they have to shorten the game as much as possible. The fewer possessions Kentucky has, the better off UTA is.
Cross plans to discuss different ways to accomplish that with his team, but doesn’t want them simply holding the ball and settling for poor shots at the end of the shot clock. Instead, he would like them to stay within their game plan but remain cautious of running the clock as much as possible.
“It does make sense to shorten the game, but at the same time you don’t want to change up your style,” Cross said. “But I’ll definitely visit with our guys about shot selection. We can’t afford to take any bad shots against them. We’ve got to take great shots and move the ball around and make them defend us.
“If we don’t do that, it’ll be an easy game for them. If we do, then we’ll have a chance.”
Either way, it should be a memorable start to a weeklong road trip that will also take UTA to Moon Township, Pa., (Robert Morris) on Thursday and Ypsilanti, Mich. (Eastern Michigan) on Saturday. That adds up to more than 2,700 miles.
“It’ll be a challenge, but it’ll set us up well for conference play,” said Dowell, the ninth-leading scorer in the country with 26 points a game. “And it’ll be real beneficial for our young guys and develop our team chemistry.”
UT Arlington at Kentucky
6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.
Radio: KKGM/1630 AM
Notable: UTA is looking for the school’s first win against a ranked opponent in the first meeting between these teams. ... Guard Reger Dowell is the nation’s ninth-leading scorer with 26 points a game. ... The game is part of the Keightley Classic, named in honor of Kentucky’s longtime equipment manager.