The Wildcats were far from dominant against Georgia on New Year’s Eve, but Kentucky escaped with a five-point win. The 66-61 victory was yet another example of how this team can follow a dominant performance with a letdown game, but as long as those letdowns are wins, then head coach John Calipari will be okay with it at this point in the season. The Wildcats next travel to LSU on Wednesday night.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Ride the hot hand
The hot hand in this Kentucky lineup has suddenly become a guy who was seen as the sixth or seventh best recruit in the class on signing day. While many of his freshmen classmates have struggled to adapt to the pace and physicality of the college game, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has gone from strength to strength and in his last two outings he has finally given Calipari the go-to player that Kentucky fans have been waiting to emerge all year.
Even if they didn’t expect that player to be the young Canadian.
After scoring a career-high 24 points against Louisville last Friday, fans were interested to see if Gilgeous-Alexander could deliver again. Against Georgia he went for 21 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks, filling up the stat sheet and dominating the game. Calipari needs to continue to ride the hot hand of Gilgeous-Alexander against LSU.
Stop Tremont Waters
Of all the teams in the SEC, LSU might be the biggest surprise package thus far in the 2017-18 season. This was a team that was projected to finish somewhere in the bottom half of the conference, but the Tigers are 9-3 with Top 50 RPI wins over both Michigan and Houston. Kentucky now gets to travel to Baton Rouge – the Wildcats first true road game – and the key to stopping LSU is in stopping a recruit that once looked destined to play in Lexington.
Tremont Waters has been outstanding for LSU this season. The point-guard has developed faster than anyone could have expected and he is averaging team-highs in scoring (17.1 points) and assists (6.4) per game. It is the decision-making ability of Waters that has surprised many, and he always seems to know when to shoot and when to distribute.
The Tigers have other players that can produce, but everything begins with Tremont Waters.
Take away the Tigers’ balance
One of the reasons that LSU has been so effective is their balance on the offense end of the floor. The Tigers have a couple of solid bigs in Duop Reath and Aaron Epps, both guys who are 6-foot-10 or taller and who combine for almost 22 points and 11 rebounds per game.
The two are a big reason why the Tigers rank 26th nationally in points per game (84,7) and 73rd in assists per game (15.9). The bigs get in great scoring positions in the paint and the guards have the ability to make passes allowing for easy scores.
It is not complicated basketball, but it is a formula that has been working well for LSU. If the Wildcats defense can take away the ability of LSU to score in the paint then Kentucky can leave Baton Rouge with a win.