CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As individual matchups go in the NCA tournament, this one is strictly marquee stuff.
The game within the game pits Kentucky All-American Jamal Mashburn against Wake Forest's Rodney Rogers, the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and second-team All-American.
In this corner is Mashburn, the 6-foot-8 junior who already has declared for the NBA draft, an adept scorer from inside and out, rebounder and passer. "The whole package," said Kentucky coach Rick Pitino.
And across the ring is Rogers, a 6-7 junior who has not decided whether he will leave for the NBA, a player with a similar ability to do just about anything a game demands.
The forwards meet tonight in the NCAA Southeast Regional semifinals, but both the players and their coaches are downplaying a confrontion that the media find captivating.
Wake Forest coach Dave Odom said he has met with his team and with Rogers individually about the matchup.
"I don't know which player is better, and I don't really care," Odom said. "All I care about is who's better on this one night. We have resisted the media wanting to make this a Rogers-Mashburn confrontation.
"Both teams are capable of winning the game if either one has a subpar night. Both teams are bigger than one man or coach."
Odom will play Rogers against Mashburn at times, but also will assign Trelonnie Owens and Travis Banks to the Kentucky star.
"We don't put one player on an opponent and tell him to shut him down for the entire game," Odom said.
Rogers said the Deacons will try to make the most of their size advantage, and he probably will throw his weight around when he is checking Mashburn.
"He might go outside more, probably figuring I'm stronger," said Rogers. "When I'm on him, I expect him to shoot the three or maybe try to drive by me."
But Pitino said he does not want his star to get into a personal duel.
"Sometimes guys have off nights because they try to match other great players," he said. "Jamal will not get into that. If he scores six points or 56, it's all the same to him if we win. If it's there, he'll take it. If not, he loves to pass."
Mashburn said if Rogers "does guard me, it's not a personal thing. It's a team thing and who is going to go on to New Orleans [for the Final Four]."
The two players became acquainted at the pre-Olympic tryouts and at a Nike summer camp. Rogers said they played golf together. Mashburn had a different version.
"We didn't really play golf," he said. "We more or less rode around in a cart and chased the ball, more or less ran all over the terrain."
Odom recruited Mashburn for Wake Forest, and the school made his final list.
"It was between Wake Forest, Syracuse and Kentucky," Mashburn said. "My mother liked the quiet atmosphere of Wake. But I didn't adjust to it. It just wasn't the place for me. And Coach Pitino had gone to Kentucky. That was the deciding factor."
Pitino said he advised Mashburn to go pro because he is ready, "and it's senseless not to unless you don't want to. The family should not pass up that opportunity for that kind of income."
Rogers is hedging, though.
"Rodney is someone who thinks things through very thoroughly," said Odom. "He plans precisely for his life. He understands there is a great future ahead of him, but he enjoys college.
"Many people used to tell him he could not get a college education, and I think that pushes him even harder. He knows that once you cross the line [turn pro], his life will change dramatically and that he can never turn back."
Pitino said he was watching Rogers on a videotape on the team plane and shouted, "I can't believe how strong he is."
"Just as I said that, the plane got hit by lightning," Pitino said. "It was quite a jolt."
Either player could deliver a jolt on the floor tonight. If the decision comes down to one shot, it's a safe bet that Mashburn and Rogers will be their teams' first options. The marquee players always are.
Tale of the tape
Key stats in the matchup of Wake Forest's Rodney Rogers and Kentucky's Jamal Mashurn:
2& .......... Rogers ..... Mashburn
Height ......... 6-7 ......... 6-8
Weight ......... 235 ......... 240
Points ........ 21.4 ........ 21.1
FG pct. ....... .557 ........ .490
Rebounds ....... 7.5 ......... 8.5
Assists ........ 2.3 ......... 3.5
Blocks ......... 28 ........... 14
Steals ......... 54 ........... 47