The Big Blue Lowdown

Insight, Analysis and Expertise on All Things Kentucky Basketball


Pregame Time: 3 Keys to Beating UConn

There are a million ways to look at this game and a number of possible options Kentucky can pursue to defeat Connecticut. We'll simplify it. Kentucky must keep up their confidence and chemistry, make shots and play good defense. That's it. They have as much as or more talent than anyone left in the Final Four, and they have the best odds according to the handicappers in Vegas. But above all else, we see three critical areas UK must focus on to come out victorious and get a chance to hang Banner #8 on Monday night.

1) Take away UConn's second option. Contrary to popular sentiment, one of the keys to beating UConn is limiting their supporting cast. Kemba Walker is going to get his points. But UConn struggled through much of the Big East regular season when opposing defenses chased Walker and no one else stepped up. One of the drivers of the Huskies' late season success was the emergence around midseason of Jeremy Lamb. Since Lamb's arrival as a legitimate scoring threat, UConn has been light's out. However, Lamb is a freshman, skinny and light. Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins can utlize their strength, experience and size to neutralize Lamb. If the two upperclassmen can make life hard on him, UConn will have one less weapon to beat the Cats with. We see Coach Cal starting the game with Liggins or Miller blanketing Lamb and making sure that if UConn goes off, it ain't coming from anyone other than Kemba.

2) Harass Kemba Walker. Walker is a freak. He is a prototypical New York player. A jitterbug, a competitor, physical and fearless. He'll be aggressive and tough to stop. But frankly, UK shouldn't be looking to stop him. They'll need to make him work hard on defense, and get after him at every turn on the defensive side of the court. A lot of folks think UK will put the Warlock on him from the get go. But we think UK might opt to run Doron Lamb and Brandon Knight at him, playing help defense on the perimeter and hoping their length can disrupt him and force him to shoot a lot of contested shots. We don't see UConn getting a lot of help in the halfcourt set from its role players. Kemba will need to do most of the damage on his own. But the Cats' young backcourt has been burned by Walker once, and they are hungry to redeem themselves. If Walker is forced to chase Knight around the floor on the defensive end, this could tire him out. As long as UK plays physical and forces him to take contested shots, they can slow him down. The advantage to starting the game with Knight and/or Lamb on Walker is that if he catches fire, they have the option of throwing Liggins at him in the second half. We see Walker going for 20 or more points, but if Kentucky makes him shoot 25 shots to do it, we think they'll be in pretty good shape.

3) Run the dribble drive and make shots. UConn is no halfcourt defensive powerhouse. They have some size and depth inside and can block shots. But they are susceptible to a team that can spread them out and penetrate and dish. This is the hallmark of the DDM offense. Knight, Lamb, Liggins, Jones and Miller should be able to find driving lanes at will and look for mid-range shots or dish to open perimeter players. If UK makes the outside jumpers they've been hitting for the past three weeks, UConn will be in for a long day. 

There's obviously a lot more to the game than these three points. There are subplots and storylines galore. Another 30-win season for Cal on the line, the rivalry between Cal and Jim Calhoun, Kentucky's revenge from an early season loss, the battle between two college hoops powerhouses, UConn's NCAA violations issues, impending decisions of underclassmen looking to explore NBA waters. This game has it all. Whether you're a UK fan or not, this is must-see TV for all college hoops fans.

Connecticut is a dangerous team. Make no mistake. They are fast, deep, tall and athletic. They score in bunches, are led by a superstar and can get out on the break and make you pay on missed shots and turnovers. As a Kentucky fan, the thing you have to fear most, aside from Walker going for 30 plus, is the fact that UConn has talented unsung role players capable of having big games out of nowhere. That's why it's pivotal that Kentucky limit the supporting network of guys. After Walker, UConn has six or seven guys who can get double digits on any night. UK will need to continue to play great team defense, value possessions and rebound the ball.

We think Jorts will do what he's been doing. Battle and scrap and just want it more than everyone else. We also see Liggins and Miller knocking down some huge shots and gathering up loose balls. Knight will be ready to fire some daggers. The Cats have every ingredient to finish this run and win a title. But they'll need to be on their game, play smart and just out-work the Huskies.

This Kentucky team has a chance to take its rightful place in UK lore. We don't know how it will play out. But we feel confident of UK's chances. It'd be sacreligious to say anything differently, but we're thinking with our brains here, and not just our hearts. If Kentucky does the same things that got them to this point, we see a positive outcome. Going out on a limb here and calling it, UK wins. 71-66.

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Kentucky freshman Charles Matthews is transferring, the school announced. Former ESPN 100 prospect. - via @ESPN App…
1. This loss means nothing. UK lost a game on the road in bizarre circumstances vs a very good team. If anything,...
Time to put Texas A&M to bed and get tuned up for a high seed in the big dance.
Epic collapse by UK tonight. Still something not right with this team.
Tough loss over the weekend, but the Cats showed heart...they'll be back.

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