7 keys to victory: Kentucky vs Houston
Kentucky will face Houston tonight with a birth in the Elite Eight on the line. Much of the talk leading up to this game has been about PJ Washington’s injured foot. Today he talked to the media and said he was unsure if he would be able to play or not. He was set to have his first practice with the team this afternoon, so how he feels after that will be the deciding factor of whether or not he will play. Kentucky could certainly use him tomorrow but either way the Cats will need to do the following if they hope to advance.
- It all starts on the glass- Despite being an undersized team, Houston is one of the better rebounding teams in the country. Kentucky has to win that battle to give themselves their best chance to win. It all begins with Reid Travis but Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro are the keys to winning the battle of the boards.
- Get the ball into the paint- Reid Travis should have a big advantage inside against the Cougars so feeding him will be a big part of attacking the paint. The other factor is driving the ball inside and it is equally important. Ashton Hagans, Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro all need to drive the ball aggressively. Houston will try to lure Kentucky into taking long jumpers, but the Cats can not take the bait. Outside shooting will be important as well, but it needs to come from the inside out.
- Use length to disrupt their guards- The Cougars are a guard heavy team that features several talented scorers. Kentucky has a size advantage over them in the backcourt. The Cats have to use their length to make life hard for the Houston guards. Ashton Hagans in particular, needs to play his super disruptive style of defense to get the Cougars offense out of sync.
- Keldon and Tyler combine for 30 points- Kentucky got just 18 points from the duo against Wofford and it made for a very tight contest. Against Houston they have got to put points on the board to give the Cats a chance at a victory. After each struggled in the previous game it is likely that they will be extremely focused against Houston.
- Kentucky has to play with a chip on their shoulder- Houston’s players have seemed to be tired of hearing about Kentucky. They will come into the game looking to shut up all of the talk about the Wildcats. On the flip side, Kentucky has to hear about how they can’t beat Houston if PJ Washington doesn’t play. The Cats have to enter the game with an edge, and be ready to go to battle with the Cougars.
- No foul trouble for Reid Travis- With PJ Washington being questionable for the game it means Reid Travis will once again be extremely important. Keeping him on the floor as much as possible will put Kentucky in the best position to win. He should be the best post scorer on the floor and the best rebounder as well. He is the backbone of this team and the Cats need him to stay out of foul trouble. If Reid can log 35 minutes of action tonight it will be a big plus for Kentucky.
- Nick Richards or EJ Montgomery must step up- Cal may chose to go with a small lineup some tonight but that does not take away the importance of Nick and EJ. Houston has quick guards that like to drive into the lane for scores. The Cats are a different kind of defensive team when they have one of the rim protectors inside. Cal has been looking for one of them to step up, and tonight would be a great time. If the duo can combine for 10 rebounds and 4 blocks it would be huge.
Houston is a very good team and that is especially true of them defensively. They want to turn the game into a grinder. Cal would like the game to be played at a slightly faster tempo, but he is fine if it is a grinder. Kentucky should have a fan advantage in the arena so that should help them when things get tough. The late tip-off probably favors the Cougars who are used to playing late games in this time zone. I am guessing that PJ Washington will play but I expect him to see limited minutes. Probably 15-20 minutes would be the most he would play and it is questionable how effective he will be. Even without factoring him in, I like the matchup for Kentucky. With that said, it is a very dangerous game for the Cats and one they could easily lose. It will be a back and forth defensive struggle early in the game. The teams will get their offense going more in the second half. The story will be told in the final 5 minutes of action when one team will pull ahead and win the game. Houston is a veteran team that will not back down and Kentucky is a team that knows how to battle. It will go to the wire and could go either way but I like the Cats to pull out a 65-63 win. Hang on tight Big Blue Nation, this is going to be a tough one.