If you’re anything like me, you were worried when it became official that Kentucky would be facing Wisconsin once again in the Final Four. A vivid flashback of impending doom from last year’s Final Four against the Badgers resurfaced in your mind and then came the shot. That miraculous shot that Aaron Harrison made as time dwindled away on the scoreboard to send Kentucky to the championship game for the 12th time.
The Cats barely scraped by last April, and they barely scraped by against Notre Dame on Saturday. Once again Aaron Harrison hit a big 3 point shot (this time with about 3 minutes remaining) and then his brother Andrew made clutch free throw to secure the victory. If anything, Saturday’s game did not do anything to ease your mind, it just made it worse. Poor defense and rookie mistakes plagued Kentucky all night long and you started to wonder if this was what it was going to be like the next couple of games as competition and tensions heightened. However, we shouldn’t worry about Saturday’s game and here’s why:
1. We are eons more experienced
Eons might be a slight exaggeration considering it’s only been a year, but we are way more experienced than we were coming into the Final Four last year. Two of our starters (Aaron and Andrew) have competed in a national championship game, as well as two other major contributors (Marcus and Dakari) to this team. This is huge when it comes to competing on the biggest stage in college basketball. The ones who have been here before know how to perform on a national stage unlike anything else they have experienced before (despite all the ratings this year). They are also less likely to make the costly mistakes like they made Saturday night when under pressure.
Yes, Wisconsin is experienced as well, but they also didn’t make it to the championship last year and they haven’t had to endure the amount of media and national scrutiny that Kentucky has all season either.
2. Willie will play this time
After spraining his ankle against Louisville in the Sweet 16 last season, Cauley-Stein missed the remainder of Kentucky’s magical run to the title game which of course included the game against Wisconsin in the Final Four. His absence allowed Marcus Lee to shine (a year ago yesterday was the Michigan game where we first saw his marvelous abilities), but his large presence was missed on the court. This year, Cauley-Stein will provide a better match-up for Wisconsin’s 7’0″, 235 pound forward Frank Kaminsky and will help contain him. While Kentucky no longer has Julius Randle and James Young, they have the returning players as well as the addition of a talented freshman class. It should be interesting to see what the Cats can do in conjunction with Cauley-Stein this time around.
3. We know how to control Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky
Two of Wisconsin’s greatest assets are Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky. Last year Dekker lead the Badgers with 15 points and four rebounds and Kaminsky had eight points and five rebounds. This year, the two lead the team again. Dekker averages 13.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game and Kaminsky averages 18.7 and eight rebounds per game. Both are also slated to go in the top 25 picks of the NBA draft in June.
Kaminsky has really blossomed since the last time Kentucky faced him. He’s turned into an efficient shooter and passer to get around the double-teams around him. If we hadn’t met Wisconsin in last year’s Final Four, nerves would be higher. But the fact that we did face the Badgers, means that we know how to better control Dekker and Kaminsky and not allow them to completely go off.
4. Saturday’s game will force us to bounce back
We’ve seen it all this season from this Kentucky. They have rolled right over teams and they have given us heart attacks. There seems to be no in between. The close games have forced Cal to get his troops inline and when they bounce back, they bounce back strong. Saturday’s edge-of-your-seat game against the Fighting Irish and a week of practice will more than likely have the Cats coming back as strong as ever against Wisconsin on Saturday. As Cal has been saying, “We’re not perfect. We’re undefeated, but we’re not perfect.”
No matter what, Saturday’s game is sure to be a good one as the Badgers will more than likely be out for revenge from last year’s game, but you shouldn’t be too worried.