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Tyler Ulis will play in his hometown of Chicago when UK faces UCLA on Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Tyler Ulis will play in his hometown of Chicago when UK faces UCLA on Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Kentucky and UCLA have long been parallel programs.

There have been occasional run-ins, namely the 1975 national championship game and a spat of meetings in the 1990s and 2000s, but the two teams with the most national championships in the history of the game have had separate existences.

For the next three years, that's changing.

UK and UCLA will have their first of three December matchups in as many seasons this weekend, starting a relationship John Calipari believes will be mutually beneficial.

"We want a tie to programs like that," Coach Cal said. "That's what we want."

The first game comes in the inaugural CBS Sports Classic at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, capping a doubleheader kicked off by North Carolina and Ohio State at Chicago's United Center. The next two matchups will be at Pauley Pavilion and Rupp Arena, respectively, but the first one is the focus for now.

"It's going to be a great experience to play against them, and being able to play at a neutral site is going to be fun," Trey Lyles said. "Hopefully we go out there and get the win."

UK (11-0), of course, enters the game with an unblemished record and a No. 1 ranking, while UCLA (8-3) is out of the polls in spite of winning four of its last five games. The Bruins are led by second-year head coach Steve Alford, with whom Calipari shares a close relationship.

"I've known him for years and years," Calipari said. "We've become close, but I knew him when he was at Southwest Missouri State. ... He and I have been close. When he went to Iowa, I think we played. They beat us when I was at Memphis, one of my first years. But he's a terrific coach, just a great guy."

Calipari and Alford will match wits on Saturday, but the two have very different teams.

Kentucky has suffocating depth and the platoon system, ranking second in the nation in bench minutes and featuring no player playing more than 24.5 minutes per game. Willie Cauley-Stein is the closest thing the Cats have to a traditional statistical standout, posting team bests of 10.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game on a group perhaps most noteworthy for its balance.

UCLA, on the other hand, relies heavily on a capable starting five. Each Bruin starter is averaging double digits in points and four are playing at least 31 minutes per game, led by Bryce Alford. Alford, his head coach's middle child, is averaging 18 points and 6.7 assists in 34.9 minutes per game.

"He's one of those guys -- and there's not many in the country -- that can take over a game and change the complexion of a game within a minute and a half," Calipari said. "And the reason is he can pull up from anywhere, he makes free throws, he can get you in foul trouble, his three off the bounce, off the catch, very, very skilled and a great passer."

Alford has good options when he does pass, including freshman forward Kevon Looney, who is averaging a double-double with 13.9 points and 10.9 rebounds to establish himself as a potential top-10 pick. Senior guard Norman Powell, meanwhile, is averaging 17.4 points and shooting 46.7 percent from 3-point range.

"He's like a scoring machine," Calipari said. "He's got some physique to him, he can get to the rim, he can make threes. He and Bryce in the backcourt have complemented each other."

The question, however, is how the Bruins will handle that UK depth.

The Cats have overwhelmed so far this season, winning all 11 of their games by double digits largely thanks to their ability to wear down the opposition with waves of depth.

"That's the whole idea of the platoon system is to try to bring in fresh bodies and wear the other team down," said Tyler Ulis, who will return to his hometown for the UCLA game. "I feel like every game we're coming in with the same attitude to try to attack them and get after it."

Lyles, meanwhile, has heard the talk of UK sprinting past UCLA thanks to that depth, but he knows the on-paper advantage grants them nothing.

"That may be true, but they have guys who can make plays and score the ball and do other things," Lyles said. "We're not going to look down on them because of that. We're going to accept the challenge and go out there and play to the best of our ability and play as a team."

Ultimately, UK is more concerned with maximizing its own potential than in playing any blue-blood matchup like Saturday's or engaging in the best-team-since-when hype that's already swirling.

"I think all of us let it go in one ear and out the other, because it really doesn't matter if we don't go out there and perform, so we need to go out there and play to the best of our abilities, and play as a team and continue to win," Lyles said. "So once the season is said and done, they can say that then."

This video, guaranteed to get you ready for UCLA

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Video: Mitchell previews UK Hoops' trip to Duke

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Video: Coach Cal's pre-UCLA press conference

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Video: UK football's biggest moments in 2014

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Video: UK football game day 2014

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Former Wildcat John Conner scored his first NFL receiving touchdown on Sunday. (UK Athletics) Former Wildcat John Conner scored his first NFL receiving touchdown on Sunday. (UK Athletics)
While injuries plagued former Wildcats and current Denver Bronco teammates Jacob Tamme (whose ribs kept him out of Sunday's win over the San Diego Chargers) and Danny Trevathan (who left the game in the second half with a dislocated kneecap, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season), injuries to San Francisco 49er running backs Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde freed up some playing time for UK alumnus Alfonso Smith. Smith registered his first four carries of the season, rushing for six yards in the 49ers' 17-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Smith's teammate, former Kentucky wide receiver Stevie Johnson, sat out the game due to an injured knee.

Cats in the Spotlight

Randall Cobb | #18 WR | Green Bay Packers (10-4)
In the Packers' 21-13 road loss to the Buffalo Bills, Cobb made seven catches for 96 yards. The former Kentucky quarterback-turned-wide-receiver also had three rushing attempts for 15 yards on the ground.

John Conner | #38 FB | New York Jets (3-11)
While the Jets emerged victorious for only the third time all season, Conner found added reason to celebrate after making the first touchdown catch of his NFL career. "The Terminator's" TD score came by way of a nine-yard pass from Geno Smith. New York defeated the Tennessee Titans, 16-11.

Ricky Lumpkin | #93 DT | Oakland Raiders (2-12)
In the Raiders' 31-13 road loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Lumpkin recorded the first sack of his NFL career. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive lineman totaled five tackles (four solo, one assisted) on the day.

Tim Masthay | #8 P | Green Bay Packers (10-4)

Masthay tied a season-high with six punts in Green Bay's loss at Buffalo. The former First Team All-SEC performer averaged 42.8 yards per punt, with Sunday's long coming in at 63 yards.

The Wildcats celebrate their win over North Carolina on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) The Wildcats celebrate their win over North Carolina on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
When you're at Kentucky and you start threatening records that have stood for more than a half-century, you're doing some good things.

The Wildcats, if they beat UCLA by 10 or more points on Saturday, would become the first team in school history to defeat its first 12 opponents by double digits. With a win over North Carolina last weekend, UK matched the record of 11 straight double-digit wins to start the 1946-47 season.

With that, UK ranks first in the nation in scoring margin, beating opponents by an average of 28.2 points per game. Unsurprisingly, the Wildcats have only strengthened their grip on the top spot in both major polls, claiming 29 of 31 first-place votes in the coaches' poll and all 65 in the AP Top 25. No team since Duke in 2010-11 has been a unanimous No. 1 in the AP poll at this point in the season.

Computer rankings tell a similar story of UK's dominance.

The Cats are ranked No. 1 according to all but seven of 41 major college basketball ranking systems compiled by masseyratings.com as of Sunday, topping the RPI, the Sagarin Ratings and 32 others.

UK is also No. 1 Ken Pomeroy's ratings with a Pythagorean win percentage (expected win percentage against an average Division-I team based on offensive and defensive efficiency) of .9719. That's the second-highest Pythagorean win percentage in the 14-year history of Pomeroy's rankings, trailing 2007-08 Kansas' .9753. The Cats are also third nationally in offensive efficiency and second in defensive efficiency, making them the first team since that same Kansas squad to be in the top three of both.

Of course it's early, but UK has only climbed in Pomeroy's rankings so far this season. If the Cats keep up their pace, they could be in line to make some history on that front.

That's also the case when it comes to the Basketball Power Index. ESPN released its first BPI ratings of the season on Tuesday and the Cats are No. 1 by a wide margin. With a BPI of 96.0, UK is well ahead of No. 2 Virginia at 92.9. For perspective, the highest BPI in the four-year history of the rating system was 2011-12 Kentucky at 92.4. That team, as you might remember, was pretty good.

Perhaps most amazing when it comes to the BPI is UK's consistency. The Cats are dead last among 351 teams nationally in variance, meaning their performance level so far this season has changed less from game to game than any other team in America.

Computer ratings don't do it for you? How about raw stats? Here are all the major categories in which UK ranks in the top 20 nationally according to NCAA.com and kenpom.com.

Scoring margin - 1st (28.2 points)
Field-goal percentage defense - 1st (.304)
2-point field-goal percentage defense - 1st (.325)
Block percentage - 1st (.240)
Offensive-rebounding percentage - 1st (.463)
Effective height - 1st (plus-6.8)
Average height - 1st (79.6 inches)
Effective field-goal percentage defense - 2nd (.351)
Points per possession allowed - 2nd (0.736)
Blocks per game - 2nd (8.3)
Percentage of minutes played by bench - 2nd (.454)
Scoring defense - 2nd (48.0)
Turnover margin - 5th (5.9)
Defensive turnover percentage - 9th (.262)
Defensive assist percentage - 9th (.419)
Total assists - t-9th (183)
Rebound margin - 11th (10.6)
Assist-to-turnover ratio - 13th (1.49)
Free-throw attempts - 13th (267)
Offensive rebounds per game - 13th (15.18)
Points per possession scored - 14th (1.158)
Free throws made - t-15th (177)
3-point field-goal percentage defense - t-16th (.267)

More than a third of the way through the regular season, this looks like one special team.

Video: Matthew Mitchell Show -- Episode 3

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Recent Comments

  • joel alberto luna colon: I agree with you, UK has not only the talent, but some experience. They could go undefeated if they want read more
  • Berdj Rassam: This was expected to be an easy win for UK. read more
  • dannyone: if the cat,s play like that in every game as they should they could go all the way.so what I,m read more
  • Dale Sine: Coach Cal at it again. He is the best coach in America and the only coach that could handle coaching read more
  • Mike J.: Cal is the best coach out there. He returned Memphis to national prominence and stayed 9 years, a helluva lot read more
  • Berdj Rassam: Booker will be a key part of whether or not this team will be successful this season. read more
  • Tom Moore: Since Tubby 98 and 2003-2004 team which should've won it all, Kentucky fans ( I am true blue ) have read more
  • John Mylant: Kentucky verses Kansas I am a UK fan but bringing this into perspective, this was just one of those games. read more
  • Catherine: We have the Blue Platoon and the White Platoon, I say we should name the rest team "The Closers"! read more
  • Sandy: Great game. I couldn't take my eyes off in the second half. Proud of all of you. I thought Epps read more