No. 14 UK (20-6, 10-3) v. Texas A&M (19-7, 8-5)
Tipoff: Saturday, 6:30 p.m., Reed Arena, College Station, Texas TV: ESPN Radio: UK Radio Network, Sirius Channel 81, XM Channel 81
Three points of emphasis for the UK vs. Texas A&M on Saturday:
Aggie post game
The Texas A&M back line is stacked with guys like Danuel House (15.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Jalen Jones (15.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and Tyler Davis (10.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg) who will give the UK frontcourt a challenge it hasn’t faced this season.
UK’s Marcus Lee, Isaac Humphries and Skal Labissiere will have to step up for the Cats in Alex Poythress’ absence.
UK head coach John Calipari knows if UK wants to escape College Station with a win, his team must establish a post presence on both sides of the floor.
“They have a great post game,” Calipari said on Thursday. ““They’re so big. If you don’t have a presence that can hold them back a little bit, they can dominate you all around that goal. They’re big and they’re long.”
The Derek Willis impact
If his career-high 25 points and seven three-pointers against Tennessee get Texas A&M’s attention, who knows what will? In his last four games, Willis is averaging 14.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 24 minutes. Needless to say, the Kentucky-native will be a key factor in UK’s success moving forward.
“I’m amazed that he’s fallen in love with this as much as he has,” Calipari said. “Because before you can be that guy, you gotta fall in love with this. Falling in love means you love every day to come to practice. You don’t become the first one out and the last one in. Like, you run when practice ends. You can’t be that guy. You’re not going to be out on the court and be special. You gotta fall in love with the process. He has.”
Despite being hampered by injuries after the Tennessee win on Thursday, Calipari confirmed the bumps and bruises shouldn’t effect Willis’ playing time. Expect the junior forward to get his usual 20-plus minutes on Saturday.
Over the course of the last few games, Calipari has preached to the media his team is becoming empowered. Each player is not only accepting his role on the team, but beginning to flourish in it. Freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe is a prime example.
While Lee has been struggling to find his rhythm, Briscoe knew the team needed him to step up on the boards and help carry the team that way. He has averaged 9.2 rebounds in UK’s last five games.
“He knew. He knew when Marcus Lee – he said, ‘Coach, I’ve got this. Don’t even say it. I know what you’re going to say to me.’ And he just went in,” Calipari said. “They’re feeling empowered. The best part of it is I don’t have to battle anybody. They already know what I want them to do.”