The Wildcats will take on Louisiana State University for the third time this season at 7 p.m in the SEC Tournament at Atlanta in the Georgia Dome.
The two teams split the regular season matchups as home court proved to be advantageous in both games. LSU (19-12) is on a mission to reach the NCAA Tournament. Defeating the Wildcats for the second time may be their last chance at receiving an invitation to the big dance.
Kentucky’s recent struggles can either be erased or amplified during tonight’s game.
Keys to victory for the Wildcats:
Stop Johnny O’Bryant! The senior center torched the Wildcats in both games. O’Bryant is averaging a solid 15.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game this season, but against the Wildcats O’Bryant makes UK fans say “oh brother.” O’Bryant averaged 24.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in two games against the Wildcats in the regular season.
Stopping O’Bryant is a tall task, even for UK’s incredibly tall and gifted defender, sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein. O’Bryant’s strength is overwhelming for Cauley-Stein and his post-move quickness and athleticism is daunting for UK freshman Dakari Johnson. Head coach Calipari has been faced with the peculiar dilemma regarding Johnson and Cauley-Stein all season.
After the loss against LSU on Jan. 28, Calipari removed Cauley-Stein from the starting lineup, opting to insert Johnson. Calipari then reinserted Cauley-Stein into the starting lineup on March 4. LSU head coach Johnny Jones has not been faced with the center quandary, as O’Bryant has started and carried the Tigers in all 31 games this season.
Forcing O’Bryant to the free throw line and into foul trouble may be the Wildcats best hope at impeding him from dominating once again. O’Bryant is shooting just 64.3 percent from the charity stripe. O’Bryant was also in serious jeopardy of fouling out during the Feb. 22 matchup as he finished with four fouls, but he still dropped 20 points.
Improve the three-point shooting: Consistency from the trifecta has been deficient all season for the Wildcats. The Wildcats did shoot 9 for 20 from the three in the first matchup, but several of those threes came late with the game already out of reach. In the second matchup the Wildcats shot just one for nine from downtown.
If O’Bryant scores at a similar pace as he did in the first two games, the Wildcats will have to find some way to play catch up, and nailing a few more threes will certainly help. Unconsciously draining three pointers will give embattled freshman Julius Randle a break from the frequent double- and triple-team matchups.
Ever since the Michigan State loss on Nov. 12, teams have swarmed Randle each time he receives the ball in the post with regulatory, insulting the Wildcat perimeter shooters.
Share the basketball: The Wildcats recorded 13 combined assists in the first two matchups with the Tigers. LSU recorded 15 assists in the first matchup alone and 27 assists combined. LSU point guard Anthony Hickey dished out 14 of those assists.
Hickey’s willingness to share the basketball should be a lesson for freshman point guard Andrew Harrison. Hickey may have been able to help Harrison even more if the former Mr. Basketball of Kentucky had been offered a scholarship by the Wildcats.
Hickey’s determination to beat the Wildcats will have an added element as he and the rest of the Tigers look to strengthen their case for an NCAA Tournament selection tonight.
If the Wildcats seek revenge against the University of Florida in the SEC Title game, the first task is to defeat the motivated Tigers.
The Wildcats squeaked out a one-point-overtime victory over LSU in the initial rematch on Feb. 22, but that was at home.
Although there will undoubtedly be significantly more blue than purple in the Georgia Dome stands tonight, the Wildcats are facing immense pressure.
If Kentucky wants to change the lost-season-thanks-to-a-bunch-of-selfish-freshmen narrative, defeating the pesky Tigers is step one.