Saturday, December 17, 2016

Sunday Showdown (Part 1): Radford at Kentucky

In most years - and particularly in recent years - Radford might have a chance to sneak up on a national power like Kentucky.

This ain't one of those years. After Radford made it seven straight wins by comprehensively dispatching Wake Forest last Saturday in Winston-Salem, N.C., the word is out on the quality of the 2016-17 Highlanders.

"We have a very difficult game coming up against Radford," said Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell, whose No. 19 Wildcats will host the Highlanders Sunday at 2 p.m. "They are on a real tear right now and have won seven in a row and are a very good team. We have struggled guarding people and Radford can really give us a lot of trouble. They have great post play and are really big and powerful. So we have tried to work hard in practice this week and we will continue to do that over the next couple of days to try to get ready for a team that is playing really well right now. It will be a difficult game on Sunday."

Now, coaches have been known to lay it on extra-thick when describing upcoming opponents. Mitchell in particular may be guilty of this in characterizing Radford as "big and powerful."

That said, we suspect Mitchell understands that Kentucky fans, and perhaps even some of his players, may be expecting a less-than-challenging opponent in the first game out of an exam break. Having seen the Wake Forest tape, Mitchell wants to make sure everyone in Big Blue Nation understands these Highlanders are to be taken seriously.

Last Saturday's 68-60 win at Wake Forest wasn't just a milestone for the Highlanders (7-1), who hadn't beaten a Power 5 conference team since 2007. It was also a high-water mark for the Big South Conference, which is now 1-13 against Power 5 opponents in 2016-17.

With all due respect to Wake, though, Kentucky (7-3) poses an even greater challenge, particularly in the on-campus Memorial Coliseum where they've won 63 straight non-conference regular season games. The Wildcats have occasionally gotten picked off in a home game at downtown Lexington's Rupp Arena, like last Sunday when they fell to Arizona State in overtime. But they haven't lost a non-conference game at Memorial since 2008.

This level of opponent is actually uncharted territory for Radford, which hadn't played a Top 25 team in McGuire's four-year tenure but now have two scheduled in a four-day span - the Highlanders visit No. 24 Virginia Tech on Wednesday.

The Highlanders last game against a nationally ranked foe came on Dec. 5, 2012 when Radford fell 66-44 at No. 21 North Carolina.

A victory would be McGuire's 50th at Radford and as a college head coach. McGuire is 49-51 lifetime.

Radford game notes

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