3 things to watch: UK vs. Baylor


UK forward Anthony Davis attempts to block Florida’s Bradley Beal’s shot during the second half of the University of Kentucky’s men basketball game against University of Florida on 3/4/12 at the O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Fl. Photo by Quianna Lige


Predict the outcome: UK vs. Baylor

1. Keep offense rolling — In three NCAA tournament games, Kentucky has shot a combined 52.9 percent. Granted, one of those was against Western Kentucky, but that Indiana game was about as flawless of an offensive performance as you’ll see in college basketball. The Cats are getting offense from all over, and that won’t stop in the next game.

Their opponents’ defense shows vulnerabilities, too. Baylor has allowed their two toughest opponents — Kansas and Missouri — to shoot a combined 51.2 percent in six games this year. Yes, the Bears have a tall frontcourt, but they didn’t look especially imposing in their Sweet 16 game against Xavier.

Calipari does expect Baylor to throw some zone defense at UK to (a) take away dribble penetration into the lane, and (b) be in good position to contest their shots when they do get to the paint. But UK has encountered enough zone that it shouldn’t bother them too much. UK will get offensive opportunities. They must take advantage of them.

2. Keep Davis on floor — UK survived forward Anthony Davis getting in early foul trouble against Indiana, but some of that was more about Indiana lacking its true center, Cody Zeller, for a large stretch of the first half as well. When Davis was able to play almost all of the second half, UK looked like a different team on defense.

Against Baylor’s tall frontcourt, Davis’ presence will be even more important. He swings the “length/athleticism” matchup toward UK. Yes, the Cats’ other five major players are plenty talented. But Davis is on another level.

“They’re very athletic, and they can dunk the ball and finish above the rim,” Davis said about Baylor. “I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Calipari, sitting next to him at the press table, quickly interjected.

“Without fouling,” he said.

Davis sheepishly echoed his thoughts.

“Without fouling.”

3. Defend Heslip — UK doesn’t have to face a whole team of 3-point shooters as it did against Indiana. Instead, it faces mainly one — Baylor’s Brady Heslip, who ranks seventh in the NCAA in 3-point field-goal percentage (45.4 percent). Heslip benefits from playing with a lineup of athletic slashers and has one of the quickest releases in the game.

UK, however, has seen players like him. John Jenkins (who ranks No. 11 in the nation in 3-point FG percentage) has a similar outside game. Whoever defends Heslip will be tasked with staying close to him at all times. If the Cats can take away Baylor’s biggest outside threat, it could go a long way — enough to propel UK into its 15th Final Four.