7 keys to victory: Kentucky vs Kansas
Kentucky vs Kansas is as blue blooded of a match-up as you can get, plus both are top 10 teams. That alone should be enough to get you fired up for tomorrow’s game in Rupp Arena. On top of that it is a chance for Kentucky to beat a ranked team for the third game in a row. The Cats NCAA tournament outlook has skyrocketed over the last few weeks and a win against Kansas would help solidify them as a contender for a 1 or 2 seed in March. Kansas has beaten Kentucky three straight times which includes a win at Rupp in 2017. It is time for that streak to end. For it to happen, these are the keys to a Wildcat victory.
- Crush the Jayhawks on the glass- Kansas is a much smaller team than normal because of injury and NCAA eligibility issues. They are a very quick and athletic team but they are undersized in the front court. The main exception to that is 6’9 junior Dedric Lawson who is a rebounding machine. The Cats have to work to keep him off the glass if they hope to dominate the backboard. If every player on Kentucky’s roster comes into the game with a focus on crashing the glass it should result in a big advantage for Kentucky.
- Let Dedric Lawson get his but shut down his teammates- I just talked about his rebounding ability but he is the Jayhawks best overall player by a long shot. He averages 20 points and 11 rebounds a game and is their lone shot blocking presence. He has put up some huge numbers against good competition so it will be almost impossible to stop him on Saturday. The key is to make life very hard for him whenever he touches the ball. If I was Cal I would rotate defenders on him to keep a fresh man defending him at all times. When he does get the ball I would defend him straight up rather than doubling down and leaving open shooters. That may lead to big numbers for Lawson but if the Cats could shut down his teammates it would make it very hard for the Jayhawks to win the game. Kentucky has the size to make Lawson earn every basket he scores. Cal may have a very different philosophy on defending Lawson than I do but we will find out on Saturday.
- Protect the basketball- The Jayhawks have several quick players that score the ball well in the open court. Allowing them to have fast break opportunities off of turnovers will get the Cats in trouble. Kentucky is doing a better job of protecting the ball lately but they can still be turnover prone in stretches. If they can keep that number at 14 or less it should bode well for Kentucky.
- Slow down Lagerald Vick- The 6’5 senior swing man is the heart and soul of this Kansas team. He averages 15 points, 4 rebounds and shoots over 45% from the 3-point line. He is very athletic and makes quick drives to the basket. Keldon Johnson or Tyler Herro will have their hands full defending him. He is by far their most dangerous threat from beyond the arc so it is crucial to stay on him at all times. Limit his open looks and make him shoot over the length of Johnson or Herro. Keep him off the glass and don’t get beat down the floor by him on offense. If he has a huge game on Saturday it will make a Kansas win much more likely. If the Cats can slow him down it will be a huge step towards a win.
- Feed Reid and PJ- Kansas can defend one of the bruising duo with Lawson but the other will have an advantage against whoever defends them. Foul trouble on Lawson would be a disaster for the Jayhawks so going at him aggressively on offense would not be a bad idea either. Either Reid or PJ should have a big game tomorrow if not both of them.
- Attack the paint- On top of feeding the post the Cats need to drive the ball into the paint. Outside of Lawson the Jayhawks have no one to protect the rim. Hagans, Herro, Johnson and Quickley all need to look to get to the paint for scores or assists. It will create opportunities for lobs to the Cats big men and also create open shots from deep as the Jayhawks defense collapses into the paint.
- Rupp needs to be rockin- This key is left up to Big Blue Nation. It will be a sold out game and the atmosphere will be great. But it is up to the fans to take a great atmosphere and put it over the top. It needs to be loud from start to finish and when crunch time comes the fans need to take it up one more notch. This is one thing that the fans can control and they can make it nearly impossible for Kansas to get out with a win. I have watched Rupp Arena will teams to win and that is what has to happen tomorrow. It is in your hands Big Blue Nation.
It should be a great game tomorrow from start to finish. I expect Kansas to keep the game close for much of the contest but I think Kentucky is just too big for them. In the closing minutes the Cats will claw their way to a 77-74 win. A win by any margin will be absolutely huge for Kentucky. Cal says win or learn but this is a time that the only option is WIN.