This is a big one, folks. On Sunday, the fourth ranked Kentucky Wildcats head to Spokane to face off against the second ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs. The Bulldogs are coming off a blowout loss to the Texas Longhorns by a score of 93-74. Kentucky won on Friday night, but is also coming off a disappointing loss when they lost to Michigan State in double overtime.
1. Pressure Gonzaga’s Young Guards
Gonzaga misses point guard Andrew Nembhard. Nembhard went to the NBA following his second season at Gonzaga and left the Bulldogs with Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis as the point guards on the roster. Hickman and Sallis, now sophomores, were highly touted recruits coming out of high school and were expected to make significant jumps. Hickman is averaging as many assists as turnovers per game, and Sallis is only shooting 20% from three. They haven’t exactly met those lofty expectations.
Kentucky has one of the best defensive backcourts in all of college basketball. Cason Wallace and Sahvir Wheeler have been great on that side of the ball. They have the ability to pressure the Bulldogs’ guards 94-feet and provide a lot of pressure. Nothing will be easy for the Gonzaga guards in this game, and if Wallace and Wheeler play well, Kentucky has the edge by a significant margin.
2. Oscar Tshiebwe vs. Drew Timme
As Anakin Skywalker once said, “this is where the fun begins.” The reigning National Player of the Year, Oscar Tshiebwe, takes on Player of the Year hopeful, Drew Timme. Tshiebwe has just come back from a knee procedure and looks better than ever. In the two games he has played in, he is averaging 14 points and 12.5 rebounds. Timme is averaging 20.7 points and eight rebounds per night. These are the two best big men in the country. If Kentucky wants to beat the Bulldogs on Sunday, Tshiebwe will need to stake his claim as the best of the best. If Timme gets “Big O” in foul trouble early, it could be a long night for the Wildcats. However, it also works the other way. Tshiebwe needs to go right at Timme and get the Gonzaga big man in foul trouble early. The game really hinges on these star players as both teams run through them.
3. Shooters Must Make Shots
Against Michigan State, Kentucky’s C.J. Fredrick and Antonio Reeves combined to go two-of-nine from three. Fredrick went one-of-six alone. He is a career 46% three-point shooter, and odds are that he will bounce back. Reeves, despite his one-of-three against Michigan State, is shooting 50% from three on the season. Assuming the two star big men cancel each other out in a sense, Kentucky needs Fredrick and Reeves to be difference makers on Sunday night.
The Wildcats take on the Bulldogs at 7:30 PM EST on ESPN.