Baylor vs. Kentucky
The weekend started off with the highly anticipated battle between the Bears and the Wildcats in the home of this year’s Final Four, Texas’ AT&T Stadium. Unfortunately, the game was played to around 10,000 people, which looked like 1,000 in this massive complex, as well as having to follow a classic 3 overtime women’s matchup between the Baylor and Kentucky women’s teams.
Baylor hoped to use their length advantage in the frontcourt with Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin to neutralize Kentucky’s inside scoring, which they did for the most part, holding Julius Randle to 16 points on 5 of 10 shooting, and Willie Cauley-Stein to 8 points. Most important, they held the Wildcats to only 7 offensive rebounds on the night, while gathering 14 of their own. The frontcourt did their part, but it was JUCO transfer point guard Kenny Chery who led the way to the Bears’ victory. Chery showed great composure in such a big game, and did a great job knocking down shots when his team needed him. Sophomore forward Rico Gathers also played his role well, using his strength to gather13 rebounds. The Bears had a lot of trouble getting good looks on the perimeter and this severely hampered Brady Heslip’s role.
On the other hand, Kentucky had little trouble getting good looks from behind the arc, hitting 8 out of 17 attempts, though 7 of those 8 came from James Young and Aaron Harrison. The Wildcats’ biggest problem continues to be at the point guard position where Andrew Harrison has yet to embrace his role as a team leader and has become a liability on both ends of the floor with his attitude and poor play. I was also surprised at how poorly Kentucky handled when Baylor went to a zone defense considering how many zones they have seen so far this year. It was surprising to see so little of Alex Poythress who seemed to have accepted his role off the bench as an energy guy. He played just 6 minutes and contributed just 2 rebounds.
Two of the remaining unbeaten teams met on Saturday in Columbia and the result was a hectic full-court battle that gave signs of great hope for the future of these programs. The veteran Missouri team was led by former transfers Jabari Brown (Oregon), Jordan Clarkson (Tulsa), and Earnest Ross (Auburn). Clarkson has emerged as one of the better point guards in the country and you can see him at his best when the Tigers are in transition. Brown and Ross are both versatile scorers who play well alongside Clarkson. Freshman forward Johnathan Williams III dominated the boards (7 offensive, 8 defensive) against a UCLA team that lacks toughness. Only six players scored in total for the Tigers, but it was plenty against a Bruins team which lacks toughness.
UCLA’s Kyle Anderson had been averaging a near triple-double to start the season, though didn’t come close to one on Saturday. The Tigers’ perimeter defense forced Anderson to take shots instead of getting into the lane, and though he has become a better shooter than last year, he isn’t good enough yet to force teams to guard him. Fellow sophomore Jordan Adams continues to a tremendous job getting to the free throw line (about 8 attempts per game), but then he will settle for long jumpers the team doesn’t need, especially in relation to time and score. Freshman guard Zach Levine is a super athlete and a lot of fun to watch in transition, but his perimeter shooting can be an adventure when he starts drifting in different directions. Freshman Bryce Alford looks like he could turn out to be a very good player for the Bruins down the line, and the team actually looked much better when he and not Anderson was running the point.