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The locker room was awful and impossible, so I left

I was charged with the unenviable task of going to the locker room to get the team’s reaction to a heartbreaking loss, but after trying for ten minutes to even see a glimpse of one of the players, I gave up. From what I could hear, De’Aaron Fox was doing most of the talking, giving North Carolina kudos, hugging Bam Adebayo, and telling reporters how much he loves his brothers. It became clear I wasn’t going to be able to get a shot and I really don’t enjoy shoving a camera in sad kid’s faces, so here are so views from those who were up front. Warning: It’ll break your heart.

And they say one-and-done players don’t care.


This. Stinks.

This. Stinks.

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Justin Ford | USA Today

Five Immediate Thoughts After Heartbreak

The KSR #DriveFor9 vehicle is going back to Lexington, unfortunately, but let’s talk about that game real quick before we do.

Five quick, unfiltered thoughts from the scene of the crime…

 

1. Luke Maye is a name we will never forget. He’s not quite Christian Laettner, but Luke Maye carved himself a spot among the biggest villains in UK basketball history. The star of the game and Wildcat killer scored a career-high 17 points and hit the one that mattered the most to end UK’s season. Many of you on Twitter are reminding me that he is my twin brother, and I can tell you I will never be able to look in the mirror at this ugly bearded face again.

2. Malik Monk did nothing, then almost played hero. If not for Maye’s game-winner, we could be talking about the two incredible three-pointers Malik Monk hit in the final minute of the game to keep his team alive. Sadly he didn’t do much of anything in the 39 minutes before he led the comeback, but it was almost a magical performance in the end. We’re going to miss that guy.

3. Kentucky needed more scoring from De’Aaron Fox. After scoring 39 points and abusing Lonzo Ball, Fox’s performance underwhelmed against North Carolina. He finished the game at 5-for-14 from the field and never really got into attack mode, which is what Kentucky needed to pull this one off. This whole tournament run was in Fox’s hands, and he didn’t do enough offensively to punch the ticket to Phoenix.

4. The officiating was trash. Before I elaborate, please know I am not blaming the outcome on the whistle. But the officiating was objectively horrible and I never want to see John Higgins call a Kentucky game again. He was trending nationally on Twitter during the game and I hate him. I hated him when he called the Wisconsin game and I hate him even more today.

5. This is hard to swallow. It’s a sad time in Big Blue Nation. This team was the hottest in the tournament and peaking at the right time, and we all had eyes on that ninth title. Season-ending losses are never easy, but this one hurts more than most with what we believed was ahead.

Hang in there, BBN.

 


Justin Ford | USA Today

North Carolina wins a close one, season officially over

Justin Ford | USA Today

Justin Ford | USA Today

Welp, it was fun while it lasted.

 


HALF: Kentucky behind 38-33 in a game of 8 on 5

HALF: Kentucky behind 38-33 in a game of 8 on 5

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Thanks to the officials, Kentucky’s first half was not ideal. De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, and Derek Willis all have two fouls and spent a good portion of the first half on the bench, but Dominique Hawkins has kept the Cats in it, leading the way with 10 first-half points. Kentucky trails UNC 38-33, but with so many scorers on the bench, it could be a lot worse.

Even Jay Williams agrees the officiating is crap:

Here’s hoping for a better second half…

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Beat North Carolina LIVE BLOG

Live Blog UK vs. UNC LIVE BLOG
 


WATCH: Kentucky warms up for UNC

WATCH: Kentucky warms up for UNC

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We’re about 30 minutes from tip of Kentucky/North Carolina and the Cats just left the floor after warm-ups. I was nice and took a video of them warming up to help you pass the time:


Three Things to Consider During Today’s Game

1. The Cats are a good Underdog.  For the second straight game, Vegas made the Cats the underdog.  UCLA was a one-point favorite Friday; today the Tar Heels are 2.5-point favorites.  Kentucky has won four straight NCAA Tournament games as the underdog, undefeated under Coach Cal.  Billy Gillispie was a six-point dog when the Patrick Patterson-less Cats lost to Marquette in the 2008 Tournament.

2. Ref Probe.  Normally I hate to share the names of referees.  A zebra is a zebra and the stripe-shirts usually mean I don’t like them, no matter what.  However, one referee today stands out in awfulness.

John Higgins has reffed eight Kentucky games.  One of those games was the “1” in 38-1.  But wait, it gets worse.  One technical foul has been called in every UK game Higgins has worked.  The last “T” he threw at Calipari was this year against Vanderbilt.  His co-workers today are Keith Kimble and Mike Reed.

3. Avoid 80.  North Carolina is 24-2 when they score 80 points or more.  A team that averages 85.2 points per game (the same as Kentucky), only two teams that have gone toe-to-toe with Tar Heels offense and lived to tell about it: Kentucky and Duke.


SEC Country: Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox gave one family a gift so big they’re fans for life

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It is no secret that Kentucky fans have no issue becoming fans of players, even in the one-and-done era. For one family, becoming a fan of De’Aaron Fox was about more than basketball. SEC Country’s Kyle Tucker tells the story of Seth Barnett, a former classmate of Fox in high school who passed away last spring. Barnett was born in Eastern Kentucky, before his family moved to the Houston area when he was a child. He was born with cerebral palsy and was confined to a wheelchair. His relationship with Fox is something that his family will always cherish.

Please go and read the entirety of the article. Let this be a warning though, it might be helpful to have a box of tissues near.

Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox gave one family a gift so big they’re fans for life


KSR Pregame Show is LIVE from Tin Roof Memphis

Kentucky Sports Radio radio is coming to you LIVE from Memphis for the Kentucky-UNC pregame show. We are at Tin Roof, right outside FedExForum, giving you an hour of pregame talk before the action gets going inside.

So turn your radio dial to 630 WLAP or listen here onlineThe show starts at 2:30 ET/1:30 CT.


Pregame Scouting: North Carolina Tarheels – Round 2

Pregame Scouting: North Carolina Tarheels – Round 2

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There aren’t many programs that have dominated the overall series with the University of Kentucky like North Carolina has. UNC has a 23-15 lead in the overall series of the two blue-blood programs. Before Coach Cal came to UK, Carolina had won five straight head-to-head match ups. Since 2009, John Calipari’s fist season as head coach of the Wildcats, UK has won 5 of the last 7, including Malik Monk’s 47 point performance back in December. Today actually marks the fourth time that Kentucky and North Carolina have met in the Elite 8.

Tonight, a battle of the top two seeds in the South Region of the bracket. The Tarheels come in as one of the more experienced teams in the country, with zero freshmen having started a game this season to go with two to three starting seniors on most nights. On the opposite hand, the Wildcats have started at least three freshman in almost every game this season, sometimes even four of the five starters are first years.

Tonight’s match up is slightly different from the game back in December, as North Carolina starting guard Theo Pinson will be taking the floor tonight. He sat out the first match up between these teams due to injury and he is widely regarded as the defensive stopper for the Heels. Carolina is sure to come out with a chip on their shoulder after giving up one of the greatest scoring performances in Kentucky history.


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#44 Justin Jackson, Junior Forward, 6’8″

Justin Jackson is now a three year starter for Roy Williams and is one of two positions I think Kentucky will struggle to defend in tonight’s game, just as the Cats struggled in the first match up with the Tar Heels. Jackson is the best player for this Tarheel squad and their offense starts with getting him going.

The leading scorer on the team, Jackson is putting up 18.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. He is tall for the 3 position at 6’8″ but can shoot from the perimeter as well as get to the bucket. Jackson is shooting 38.3% from deep and just over 74% from the free throw line this season. He has made 4 or more 3’s in twelve games this season, including making 7 against Davidson back in December. In the first match up with the Cats, Jackson did his best to try to match Malik Monk’s scoring outburst. Jackson finished with 34 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. He shot 10-17 from the field, 10-15 from the charity stripe, and 4-7 from deep.

As mentioned earlier, Jackson is tall and long at the 3-spot for the Tarheels, meaning the Cats don’t have a player that really matches up with his size and athleticism. Any of UK’s three starting guards will be at a 5 inch disadvantage when guarding Jackson. Now, we’ve seen multiple times this year where Coach Cal has taken Briscoe and put him on the bigger scorer for the opposing team, and he used that strategy against North Carolina the first time. However, since that defensive match up didn’t work great for the Cats, look for Cal to try to throw something different in the mix to slow Jackson down.

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#4 Isaiah Hicks, Senior Forward, 6’9″

Isaiah Hicks was the 2016 ACC 6th Man of the Year last season and is one of two big bodies that UNC starts in their frontcourt. This is the first season that Hicks is playing more than 20 minutes a game, and he’s making good use of his time on the court.

The senior is scoring 12.3 points and pulling down 5.7 rebounds per game, good for second best on the team. Hicks has been a role player for most of his career, which is why none of his stats will really jump off the page, but the senior has been playing in Roy Williams’ system for 3+ years now and does exactly what is asked of him on a regular basis. The big man can draw fouls on the UK frontcourt and knock down his free throws as well, hitting nearly 80% on the year. In the first game against Kentucky, Hicks put up 10 points and 3 rebounds in only 15 minutes of action, as foul trouble kept the senior on the bench for a large portion of the game.

Hicks’ major downfall is on the defensive side where he tends to pick up a ton of fouls, sending him to the bench lending way for freshman Tony Bradley to play about 15 minutes per game off of the bench. Hicks has fouled 3 or more times in 25 of 36 games this season, including fouling out in 5 games this season.

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#3 Kennedy Meeks, Senior Center, 6’10”

It seems not long ago that Kennedy Meeks was jokingly interviewing UK players at the high school all-star games, but Meeks is a completely changed player since then. Meeks was 280 pounds coming out of high school, and he was severely out of shape. Since then, Meeks has lost over 20 pounds, slimmed down, and put on a ton of muscle. It is crazy what four years of D-1 college basketball workouts will do for a player’s body.

Meeks is averaging almost a double-double for the Tarheels, averaging 12.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per contest. He’s a solid defensive big man with just under one steal per game, and his shot blocking has really improved from the beginning of the year, averaging almost double what he did in the first match up against UK. Against the Cats, he had 12 points and 7 rebounds, but he joined Hicks on the bench with foul trouble through a lot of the game, fouling out with around 5 minutes to play

Meeks’ game and body type make him a perfect matchup on both ends for Bam Adebayo. In fact, when Meeks fouled out with just about 5 minutes left in the game, Bam fouled out less than 2 minutes later. Both are big players that can move away from the basket. I think Adebayo has shown extreme improvement since the first two months of the year, so look for this matchup to be key to who owns the paint.

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#2 Joel Berry II, Junior Guard, 6’0″

Joel Berry II was questionable for the first game against the Cats, but ended up playing 34 minutes and being the second leading scorer for the Tar Heels. In this game, Berry is nursing another injury, as his ankle was re-injured in last round’s game against Butler in the Sweet 16. Berry was named the ACC Tournament MVP last season, and was voted All ACC Second Team this season.

Berry has been North Carolina’s second best player for basically the entire season. Berry is the second leading scorer, leading total assist man, and leads the team in steals as well. He averages 14.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.4 steals per game. The junior is a heck of a shooter as well, hitting a team-best 40.2% of his threes this season, as well as leading the team at 81% from the free throw line. In the first game against the Cats, Berry finished with 23 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals.

While Berry has been causing problems for opposing defenses all season, he matches up with Kentucky guard De’Aaron Fox. One of the few times this season that De’Aaron Fox has had a three inch advantage on his opponent. Fox had a big game himself against Berry in December, putting up 24 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals. This match up pits two stellar point guards against each other, one with blazing speed and youth, while the other has the experience of being in this position before. If Berry’s ankle is truly bothering him, look for Fox’s speed to be a huge issue for the Tar Heels.

 

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#1 Theo Pinson, Junior Guard, 6’6″

Theo Pinson was the missing link for the North Carolina Tar Heels for a good majority of the season. As I mentioned earlier, Pinson is the best perimeter defender that Roy Williams has, but he was only able to play 18 of 37 games up to this point in the season. Pinson sat out the first 16 games of the year with a fractured foot.

The Greensboro, North Carolina native doesn’t have huge numbers on the season, as expected for a guy who has played less than half of the games. Pinson averages 5.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game which is good for the best average on the team. While Pinson isn’t a huge scorer, he can knock down the occasional open jumper, so it isn’t like the Cats can forget about him on their defensive end of the floor. He has scored double digits four times in the few games he’s played this year.

The junior’s defense is what brings a totally different element to today’s game for both teams. For Kentucky, the Cats want to continue what Malik Monk had going against the Tar Heels in December. For North Carolina, the Heels want to use Pinson’s perimeter defense to stop Monk from having so many open looks on the outside. I don’t think Malik Monk will struggle too much guarding Pinson; however, Pinson’s three inch and 11 pound size advantage could cause issues for Monk’s scoring. Monk’s second half against UCLA was an uplifting sign for Cats’ fans, as he finished with 21 total points and hit 4 threes.


North Carolina has two solid starting big men, and another really talented big guy coming off the bench. Usually, I’d like UK’s chances against a front court that tends to foul an awful lot; however, Isaiah Hicks is a really big body for Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel to have to defend at the four spot. This is an especially key matchup when you take into consideration what TJ Leaf did for UCLA in two games against the Cats at that position. Look for Kentucky to try to use De’Aaron Fox to go right at the ailing Joel Berry II from the start to test how his ankle holds up.

Survive and Advance.

Go Cats. Beat Tarheels.

@BrettBibbinsKSR


Let UK End UNC’s Mockery of College Sport

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There’s something uniquely special about this afternoon’s Elite Eight matchup between the University of Kentucky Wildcats and the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.  Arguably, the two best remaining teams in the NCAA tournament square off, reprising their thrilling December contest, perhaps the best college game played all year, and certainly one of the most fun to watch.  Inarguably, the teams represent two of the greatest traditions in the history of college hoops; their marquee pedigrees evoking decades of memories of extraordinary basketball.

There’s also something uniquely disturbing about today’s contest.  The University of North Carolina simply should not be playing today.  Their postseason presence — following an almost-championship run last year — makes a mockery of undergraduate athletics.

More than two years after revelations surfaced that the school had engaged in the most morally offensive institutional misconduct in the history of college sports, the team plays on, without even a hand check on the wrist.

Every time I have made the above charge, I’m scolded for minimizing the Penn State football child molestation scandal.  Certainly there, the underlying crime was far more abhorrent.  But the institution’s crimes were limited to a handful of miscreants, and with this week’s conviction of former school President Graham Spanier for child endangerment, justice has been served.

By contrast, UNC’s academic scandal poisoned institutions all across campus, and the injustice lives on.  I’ve written several pieces in this space, but here’s a reminder of the ignominy to further boil your blood on Game Day:

  • Over nearly two decades, more than 3100 UNC students enrolled in a series of sham African and Afro-American Studies classes.  They were awarded As and Bs, even though they never had to take a test, or even to show up in class.
  • According to an independent report, commissioned by the University, the scam was perpetuated by a conspiracy among faculty members, administrators, and academic advisers, the point of which was to keep athletes eligible to play by steering them to classes in which the only requirement was a single paper…that was never read.
  • An example of the fraud?  Students in third-level Swahili were able to fulfill the school’s foreign language requirement by writing a paper on African culture in English, not Swahili.
  • The classes were an open secret on campus — word spread throughout the Greek system — in fact, more than half of the students impacted were not athletes.
  • When the independent report was released in October 2014, public outrage and media criticism was fierce, with one particularly unstable columnist even suggesting that the Tar Heels should receive the death penalty. A year later, new damning allegations were aired involving basketball tutors providing inappropriate academic assistance.  And just this past December, the school just received its third notice of allegations from the NCAA.
  • And yet…the NCAA investigation still drags on, with delay after delay sparked by new revelations.  The university’s response?  Throw out some of the evidence because a four-year statute of limitations has expired…because of all of the foot-dragging and new allegations.

Let’s be clear: The UNC academic scandal subverts the very moral bargain universities cut with student athletes: In return for all of the acclaim (and money) you bring to the university, we prepare you for the workplace with free education and training.

Yet the students who took these courses received no education; in fact, many had no contact with teachers.  They were funneled through this fraud just to keep up their athletic eligibility. For the vast majority who didn’t go pro, they were cast on the job market with fewer tangible skills and less training.  Further, thousands of non-athletes were collateral damage, graduating with a devalued diploma.

The UNC scandal is the example of a complete loss of institutional control in a way that directly harmed the very young people whom the school was entrusted to protect.  The message must be clear: This can never happen again.

Indeed, when he first learned about the transgressions, NCAA President Mark Emmer stated that “this is a case that potentially strikes at the heart of what higher education is about.”  He was right then.  But now, as his institution reaps many millions of benefits from UNC’s continued presence in postseason, his own institution’s credibility plummets even further.

Maybe the NCAA will finally get its act together in April, take appropriate action against North Carolina, and vacate any of its potential wins in this year’s tournament.  And maybe our nation’s politicians will finally put aside partisanship, roll up their sleeves to find compromise, and foster some solutions to this nation’s most vexing policy problems.

One can dream…

But in the meantime, if you need yet another reason to be rooting for a Monk monster performance, a Bam re-boom, or D’Aaron domination, let’s hope that our Cats end a Tar Heel postseason that never should have begun in the first place.  Let a Cat victory serve as a remedy for NCAA inaction.


North Carolina’s Game Plan runs through Bam Adebayo

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

Out of all of the key components of Kentucky’s win over North Carolina earlier this season, one of the more underrated ones is the fact that Kentucky out rebounded the Tar Heels 39-35. The leading rebounders for Kentucky in that game? Bam Adebayo and Isaiah Briscoe. Slowing down Adebayo has been one of the main points of emphasis for Roy Williams’ Tar Heels. When asked about Adebayo, Kennedy Meeks and Joel Berry has this to say:

On this topic at yesterday’s press conference, Meeks said, “That’s our main goal is to definitely get their bigs in foul trouble. I think they’re limited in that position. I feel like Bam is definitely a great player, and we want to get him out of the game as much as possible.

Again, this is just showing the importance of Bam returning the favor and getting Meeks and company in foul trouble too. It is going to also put a strong emphasis on the Kentucky bench to have quality minutes when Bam is not on the floor. Isaac Humphries has played well the last few games in his limited action. He will have to keep that up if the Cats want a game next weekend.


The Stats you need to know before Tip-Off

The Stats you need to know before Tip-Off

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North Carolina is all that stands in the way between Kentucky and the Final Four. Earlier this season, Kentucky defeated North Carolina in what might have been the best regular season College Basketball game in recent memory.

Big Blue History, an impressive collection and analysis of statistics, went through and found out what Kentucky’s record is in Tournament games that is a rematch from earlier in the season, in which Kentucky won the first meeting (Updated)Overall, Kentucky is 13-4 in these games.

Games Kentucky won the rematch:

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@bigbluehistory

Games Kentucky lost the rematch:

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@bigbluehistory

Looking more specifically, Coach Cal’s record is 3-1 in these games, with all four being ones that all Kentucky fans can remember.

It also might be worth mentioning this statistic:

@bigbluehistory

@bigbluehistory

Kentucky has never lost in the Memphis area. Go Cats! #BeatUNC

@GormleyKSR


7 Keys to the Kentucky/North Carolina Elite Eight Showdown

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In five hours, Kentucky and North Carolina will square off for a ticket to the Final Four. After the two teams delivered a classic in Vegas in December, how fitting is it that arguably the most compelling matchup left in the tournament belongs to them? Even though the Cats got the best of the Tar Heels three months ago, they come into today’s game as a 2.5-point underdog. Let’s break down the keys to the game.

1. The Revenge Factor

On Friday, it was Kentucky seeking revenge vs. UCLA. Now, it’s the other way around. While both teams are wisely shying away from trash talk, yesterday, Joel Berry admitted the Tar Heels are looking to avenge December’s three-point loss.

That’s what we come to college basketball for, and it doesn’t get any better than this,” Berry said. “We lost to them early in the season, so it was kind of another revenge game for us.”

Making matters more personal for North Carolina is their heartbreaking loss to Villanova in last year’s national championship game. The Tar Heels will have no problem getting up for today’s game.

2. Joel Berry’s ankle

Berry’s been battling an ankle injury over the past few weeks, and he tweaked it again vs. Butler on Friday night. De’Aaron Fox already has an edge on Berry with speed and is coming off the best game of his career; will Berry be able to keep up?

3. Will Theo Pinson be able to slow down Malik Monk?

What has North Carolina fans feeling confident about today’s game? The Tar Heels have Theo Pinson this time around. The junior guard had to miss December’s game because of a foot injury, and if you ask UNC fans, his absence was one of the reasons Malik Monk was able to go off for 47 points.

“Maybe if Theo was playing, Malik only has 30 points and we still win the game,” Kennedy Meeks said yesterday. “That’s just the type of effect that he has. Even though all of us get tired sometimes, I think he’s definitely one of the best defenders, and I think he does a great job of coming in the game and giving us a lift.”

“We just don’t want to give the game that Malik had,” Joel Berry said of the Tar Heels’ motivation heading into today. “We want to be able to stay on him and not let him get 47 on us again, so that’s the biggest thing.”

@KentuckyMBB

@KentuckyMBB

4. Will Monk’s strong second half Friday night carry over?

After struggling with his shot for most of the postseason, Malik Monk finally warmed up on Friday night, going 8-17 from the floor for 21 points, including four threes. Monk was the reason Kentucky beat North Carolina in December, and judging by this video from today’s shootaround, he’s feeling it again:

Looks like a good omen to me.

5. Kentucky’s defense

As De’Aaron Fox bluntly put it yesterday, no defense was played in December’s matchup. The one area in which Kentucky’s improved the most since then is defense. Kentucky was able to hold a UCLA team that scored 97 on them in December to 75 on Friday night. While most people characterize the Cats by their ability to score in transition, De’Aaron Fox said that now, it all starts with defense.

“That December game, there was no defense in that game. When you’re playing a 40-minute game and it’s 100-103. Both teams have gotten better,” Fox said. “It’s not about our offense. Like I said, if we can buckle down defensively, our offense is going to come. If we’re playing defense, we’re confident in how we play.”

6. Bam Adebayo staying out of foul trouble

Bam Adebayo played only 19 minutes in December’s game because of foul trouble, which his teammates teased him about yesterday.

MALIK MONK: I just remember Bam fouling out with like six minutes left in the game.

ISAIAH BRISCOE: He left us hanging.

MALIK MONK: He left us hanging. That’s all I remember.

BAM ADEBAYO: Did we win?

ISAIAH BRISCOE: Yeah, we won.

BAM ADEBAYO: All right then.

Obviously, getting Bam in foul trouble again is a priority for the Tar Heels  today.

“Well, I’m pretty sure I fouled out before he did (laughter), so I mean, you can figure that out,” Kennedy Meeks quipped yesterday. “That’s our main goal is to definitely get their bigs in foul trouble. I think they’re limited in that position. I feel like Bam is definitely a great player, and we want to get him out of the game as much as possible.”

Bam only had two points vs. UCLA, but contributed in other ways, dishing out a career-high five assists and opening up the lane for De’Aaron Fox. Here’s hoping he can walk the fine line of holding his own and playing aggressively without drawing the ire of the officials.

7. Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins

An interesting stat from December’s game that no one seems to be talking about: Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins combined for only three points in 28 minutes, in a game in which the Cats scored 103 nonetheless. Derek and Dom’s contributions are a big reason Kentucky’s been able to pull it together over the past few months; what will they do today to ensure this isn’t the last game of their Kentucky careers?