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White, Wildcats set to finally meet

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Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones are expected to share the responsibility of guarding Iowa State's Royce White. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones are expected to share the responsibility of guarding Iowa State's Royce White. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
LOUISVILLE - In another world, Royce White might be in a Kentucky uniform this weekend.

Instead, he'll be doing everything in his power to put an end to his would-be teammates' season when his Iowa State Cyclones take the floor in the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

Two seasons ago, the former Jordan Brand All-American was all set to resume his basketball as a Kentucky Wildcat. Following his departure from hometown Minnesota before even playing a collegiate game, UK head coach John Calipari got in touch, first to establish a relationship.

"Someone there called me to say, 'Cal, you can help this young man, and he would be a terrific player for you," Calipari said. "And I said, 'Tell me about him.' "

Following some legwork, a series of phone calls and an in-home visit, Calipari was sold. Even though White's time as a Golden Gopher ended somewhat ignominiously, Calipari saw potential in the 6-foot-8, 270 pounder, both as a person and a player.

"When I met him and his mom, I was blown away, like I really want to coach this kid," Calipari said. "I knew he had some issues, but it wasn't anything of the heart. I've done this a long time, and if a young man has a good heart, I can deal with everything else, and I think he has a good heart."

The next step was a trip to Lexington to seal the deal that, in Calipari's mind, was already done. It would prove to be the fateful flight that wasn't that has become one of the stories of this college basketball season.

"He couldn't get on the plane," Calipari said. "And I'm like, 'If you don't come here now, if you can't show up in the summer, you're not going to be able to do this here, and he just couldn't do it."

White has battled an anxiety disorder since high school that has caused a fear of flying. That, along with the impending birth of his son, wouldn't allow him to board that plane.

"It was pretty much a call one night, and I was going to need to get on a plane the next day," White said. "That was kind of uncomfortable for me. I had met with Coach before via phone and there were some things going on, such as my son being born, and we needed to be in a close proximity to Minnesota anyway.

White still looks back with some level of fondness on when he nearly came to play for Coach Cal, recalling being courted by "an icon for college basketball."

"We had good talks about a lot of things," White said. "It was good enough where I wanted to go to Lexington, and it just didn't work out the way we planned it, and Iowa State was a better fit."

It's funny the way things work out.

White opted to play for Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State, sitting out the 2010-11 before bursting on the scene this year as a versatile point forward for the eighth-seeded Cyclones (23-10). Fresh off an impressive 77-64 win over Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament's second round, White has helped lead a team that didn't even make the NIT a season ago back to relevance.

He is the team's leading scorer (13.1 points per game) and rebounder (9.3 per game) and has more than twice as many assists (166) as his closest teammate.

Without White in the fold, UK (33-2) is doing just fine too, sitting atop both major polls the final eight weeks of the season en route to the tournament's No. 1 overall seed. An 81-66 victory over Western Kentucky on Thursday night set up a matchup between the Wildcats and the player who came oh-so-close to playing with them.

Unsurprisingly, Coach Cal is happy for the way things have worked out for White, who made an eight-and-a-half hour car ride to Louisville with his grandfather to avoid the plane trek, but he doesn't want White's season lasting past this weekend.

"What Iowa State and the State of Iowa has done for that young man, he's on the path that I would want him on if he played for me," Calipari said. "So I just hope he's not on the path for one more game."

The challenge UK has in coping with White is one the Cats have not seen. There simply aren't many basketball players with the size of an NFL defensive end capable of bringing the ball up the floor, but that's precisely what White is.

"I got to see a little bit of yesterday's game and he's a very talented player, a very skilled player so he's going to be a tough matchup for us," senior guard Darius Miller said. "We got to come out looking to try to contain him and hopefully he doesn't go wild."

With White leading the way, Iowa State finished third in the rugged Big 12, posting victories over top-10 teams Kansas and Baylor along the way. In two games against Thomas Robinson, Anthony Davis' primary competition for national player of the year, White averaged 18 points and 13 rebounds, so going toe-to-toe with top competition has not been an issue.

Working in UK's favor is the fact that White is the lone Cyclone over 6-6 to play more than 11.7 minutes. The Wildcats, on the other hand, have multiple players with the size, athleticism and versatility to hang with White - or at least attempt to.

"He's a difficult player to guard since he's so big," freshman point guard Marquis Teague said. "He brings it down since he's probably a little quicker than most big men so it (puts) the other big men (at) a disadvantage, but we have Terrence and Anthony who also play that way, so I think we'll be able to match up with him pretty well."

With so much of his team's offensive burden falling on his shoulders, White has also been prone to turnovers at times. On the year, he's averaging 3.9 giveaways per game, so expect the Wildcats to put pressure on him.

"We think we can," Teague said. "We're going to try to pressure him and make him play a little crazy if we can."

Nonetheless, White is a tough matchup, even on his own. The fact is, he's far from alone. Surrounded by four players who have hit at least 50 3-pointers on the season, the Hoiberg's Cyclones make for "one of the toughest games we've played in a while," according to Calipari.

"They have both," Calipari said. "One, you've got to figure out how you're going to guard (White). We have yet to do that, and we may never figure it out. Not many people have. Then the other thing is you're got to guard the 3-point line."

Miller wasn't exactly sure how UK will attack Iowa State defensively, but he does have a pretty good idea the Cats won't rely on just one look. He also knows that defending the player with whom they almost shared a locker room is going to demand one of their best efforts.

"I think we'll probably switch it up and give him different looks," Miller said. "I feel like this game is going to have to be one of our best defensive performances because of how good they are on offense."

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I think your player Anthony Davis #23 should keep his mouth piece in his mouth or keep it in his locker. It makes me sick seeing him get spit all over himself and others. That's body fluid and carries germs. It may be getting the floor wet and slick as well. Thank you Marian Fields

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