One of the trends that has been difficult to watch over the last couple of years is the heightened frequency with which the other team’s best player goes off on the Cats. Lets call it the “Robert Vaden” syndrome. A few weeks ago we saw it in Lexington, when Devan Downey was able to slowly break down the Cats and pull out an upset for his South Carolina Gamecocks. Why this happens is a complicated question, but a simplistic answer to it is that Billy Gillispie’s defense is usually not designed to stop one person. Gillispie’s defense is based on ball pressure and rotation on dribble drives to the basket. Both of these are consistent themes and are not altered, no matter the opponent. While that has led to some criticism from folks, it is a consistent principle of a Gillispie gameplan and it can often lead to a particular player having a big game.
Which brings us to Devan Downey. A few weeks ago Kentucky went with a couple of different matchups on the young man. In the first half, they put the Razor on him and he was generally effective. But then Zam Frederick went off and Razor was switched to guard him, putting an array of players ranging from Meeks to Liggins to Stevenson on Downey at a particular time. What ended up happening was a series of drives to the basket, followed by open threes when others cut off penetration. Downey went off and the Cats ended up with a loss.
Tonight, I expect to see the Razor and Darius Miller share the majority of time on Downey. Both players seem to have an athletic build that does the most to give Downey fits. They both are a bit taller than the average guard and both have long wingspans, which make it harder for Downey to get off an uncontested shot. Gillispie mentioned after the South Carolina game that he had picked poor matchups for Downey in the second half, so I expect the “3” position to guard Downey tonight. But that shifts the crucial matchup to Zam Frederick….he will likely be the responsibility of Jodie Meeks…..Meeks HAS to play better defense than he did the last time these two played. If Meeks can put at least a partial lid on Frederick, then Harris/Miller can take Downey….and UK’s chances of success rise dramatically.