Kentucky's Ron Mercer and Utah's Keith Van Horn, two-fifths of the All-America team, go against each other one more time as college players today before heading to a future of duels in the NBA.
Mercer, a 6-foot-7 sophomore with a slashing style, is quicker. Van Horn, a 6-10 senior, can play with equal effectiveness under the boards or from the outside. Both have silky touches on jumpers, and both are willing to sacrifice their bodies by bumping up against opponents.
When they meet in the NCAA West Regional for a berth in the Final Four, they won't be guarding each other man-to-man. But each knows that he is the go-to guy for his team, the player who must score, must rebound, must lead from start to finish. In that respect, Mercer and Van Horn will be well aware of outplaying the other, trying to assert dominance.
"It's going to take a team effort to stop him," Mercer said of Van Horn. "We'll be switching off, different players on him at different times. The way we play defense, he'll probably think everyone's guarding him."
Kentucky's Scott Padgett, a 6-9 power forward, likely will guard Van Horn, though Wildcats coach Rick Pitino didn't want to talk too much to Padgett about the assignment.
"I don't want to ruin Scott's sleep," Pitino said.
"Actually, we haven't gone over that. We may play a lot of 3-2 (zone)."
Padgett, a sophomore who watched but didn't play last year when Van Horn scored 23 points in a 101-70 loss to eventual champion Kentucky in the Midwest Regional semifinals, is confident the zone press will help limit Van Horn's effectiveness.
"We play defense by committee," Padgett said.
"Everybody helps. There will be times when I go out on him because he's got such a good shot from the top of the key. But we'll also try to keep the ball away from him, get to the ball before he gets it."
Few of the Wildcats who played much against Utah last year will be on the court. Derek Anderson, who scored 18 points, is sidelined as he recovers from knee surgery. Allen Edwards, who had six points, has a broken ankle. Antoine Walker, who scored 19 points, and Tony Delk, who had 14, are in the NBA, along with Walter McCarty and Mark Pope.
Anthony Epps, who scored 14 points against the Utes, will start. But the big difference will be Mercer, who as a freshman had only four points and not many minutes.
"They're not the same team they were last year, obviously," Utah coach Rick Majerus said. "They're still a very good team.