The formula for Coach Cal’s day-before-the-game press conference is pretty simple. Kentucky is going to [insert destination] to play Team X in front of their biggest crowd of the year. And though Team X hasn’t beaten anyone outside of the National Christian College Athletic Assocation, it’s a real test of this team’s focus. It’s their Super Bowl. S0-and-so is a heck of a coach. Every team in the SEC could make the Sweet 16. He’s coaching freshmen. Fonzi shrug.
So when Coach Cal meet’s with the finest scribes in the Bluegrass and a KSR intern tomorrow, expect to hear it. It will most certainly be said, though we all know it’s not true. Not entirely at least.
LSU can’t beat Kentucky. Point blank, period. That’s not to say that Kentucky can’t lose the game, because they certainly can. But Kentucky will have to beat Kentucky. And rarely do teams this talented and this well-coached get beat in the traditional sense of the word. Sure, they might take some losses and some of them could be far more embarrassing than dropping one Saturday to LSU would be, but in order for the Tigers to take the ball, Kentucky’s going to have to drop it first. And that’s why these games are so important. This is when Kentucky learns about themselves and figures out how to avoid self-inflicted post-season wounds.
When you’re a team as good as Kentucky, who not only has the chance to not only chase a national title, but also history as one of college basketball’s most dominant teams, January and February are about learning about yourself and avoiding beating yourself in March and April. And when the Cats travel to Baton Rouge to play LSU in front of their biggest crowd of the year (read that in your Calipari voice), they’ll have another one of those chances. And it’s one that makes this game far more intriguing than the teams’ records might indicate.
LSU will have the emotion on their side, since it’s their Super Bowl and all, and point guard Anthony Hickey will be trying to get his Chris Lofton on against the Cats, but the matchup to watch will be inside. If Kentucky has an achilles heel – and I’m still not quite convinced that they do – it’s that you still wonder exactly how they’ll respond if they get smacked in the mouth. UK’s front line features two future pros and both are stronger than people give them credit for, but they’ll get a test from LSU’s duo of Justin Hamilton and Johnny O’Bryant.
Hamilton is a 6’11”, 260 pound transfer from Iowa State who has become twice the player (statistically at least) since transferring to LSU and averages 13 points and 7 rebounds per game. But Hamilton’s game has continued to improve this season and he’s become more of a centerpiece of the team since the start of conference play. Last week against Florida, Hamilton knocked down 13 of 22 shots and scored 27 points and pulled down 8 rebounds. But, with that being said, on his best day, he’s not half the basketball player Anthony Davis is. And he’s really not the reason why Kentucky can learn a little more about themselves this weekend.
That would be Johnny O’Bryant, who has the the name of a leprechaun and the gentleness of the Abonimable Snowman. O’Bryant’s numbers are fairly pedestrian, but the opportunity for growth he provides Kentucky with goes far beyond the 8 points and 6 rebounds. The freshman forward plays nasty and doesn’t let up. Two summers ago in Orlando, I thought he was going to kill accidentally kill someone at AAU Nationals because he was playing so hard. He will make you work for every rebound, shot attempt, step, glance and breath you want to make. He’s going to beat on Terrence Jones like he found his pot of gold. And in the middle of a conference schedule which can boast the Jimmy Dykes and Brad Nessler as one of the highlights, great teams and great players sometimes need that sort of little learning experience.
You see, most of UK’s conference games are like man boobs. When the world barely notices them, it’s a good day. But that doesn’t mean this team can’t continue to learn about themselves as they sludge through these SEC West games. In fact, discovering their identity through these little battles might be what it takes to avoid being just another star-studded team that headed home early in the post-season.
So, basically, let’s all get psyched for the KSR Live Blog Saturday.