In basically every UK-UofL game, there is one player that rises above the fray to separate one from the other. Being a rivalry and all, the games are basically always pretty closely contested, so the exceptional performance of one player, especially in the two games Coach Cal has been on the sidelines for, usually makes the difference in the end. Two years ago DeMarcus Cousins went for 18 points and 18 rebounds, in addition to setting the physical tone for the game, and was the key performer in the Cats’ nine-point win. Last year’s game wasn’t as close, but Josh Harrellson’s 23 and 14 was the difference for Kentucky as Louisville focused on taking away Terrence Jones. Brandon Knight put up 25, but it was Jorts’ coming out party that truly propelled the Cats on to a win in their first trip to the Chicken Shack.
This year will be no different. While I believe that Kentucky is a class above Louisville and will show that Saturday, it won’t happen with a group of average performances. Someone will need to have a special game in order for Kentucky to get the result that they should. This team is full of players capable of doing that, but for me the guy who will be the key to Kentucky winning, and possibly winning comfortably, is Doron Lamb. It’s not necessarily always the case that he is the most important Kentucky player, but in this particular game he will play several major roles that will lead to him being just that. First, he’ll play an important part in taking pressure off of Marquis Teague. Louisville will pressure Teague in a way that he hasn’t seen thus far, so Lamb’s ability to stabilize things as the secondary ballhandler will be huge in helping the Cats deal with that pressure. He’ll also probably have to defend Russ Smith, who is Louisville’s wildcard and their most explosive, although not most consistent, scoring threat. If Lamb forces Smith to struggle, Louisville’s offense essentially becomes only what Peyton Siva can create, and that makes them not only easier to handle, but overmatched to the point that Kentucky can cruise.
Finally, and probably most importantly, Lamb will be the main zone-buster against the Cards. Louisville will have to play a lot of zone against the Cats because of their athletic disadvantage, meaning Kentucky will have to knock down outside shots to win. It’s no secret that UK’s outside shooting starts with Lamb. If he hits the open looks he’ll get against the zone Kentucky will roll, and if he can get into the lane for the mid-range jumpers and floaters that he’s so good at then Louisville will be forced into a man-to-man in which they simply can’t match up. Lamb can almost single-handedly disrupt everything Louisville wants to do on defense, and if he really gets it going then 2011 could end with a laugher.
This isn’t all to say that I expect other guys to have bad games, or that Kentucky can’t win without Lamb playing particularly well. I think they’re a much better team than the Filthy Cards and should win this game regardless. It’s just to say that if this game turns into a dogfight like it very well could, Lamb is the guy I believe is most likely to be the difference maker that pushes Kentucky on to a win. Now that you know who I expect to leave his mark on this year’s edition of UK-UofL, it’s time for you to tell me yours. Who do you think will be the key to Kentucky making it three in a row over the Cards?