UK basketball: Louisiana State big men pose challenge for Cats

jtipton@herald-leader.comJanuary 27, 2014 

Missouri LSU Basketball

Missouri's Keanau Post, left, and Tony Criswell guarded LSU's Johnny O'Bryant, who leads the Tigers with 14.6 points a game.

CATHERINE THRELKELD — AP

Willie Cauley-Stein compares LSU's front-line tandem to — gulp — Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon.

"But taller," UK Coach John Calipari said of LSU's Johnny O'Bryant and freshman Jordan Mickey.

Against Tennessee's bulk brothers (Stokes and Maymon), UK had the advantage of shot-altering height, Calipari said. Of course, bulk got much the best of it, although Kentucky beat the Vols thanks to unusually good shooting from the perimeter and foul line.

Of LSU's big guys Calipari said, "Those guys are strong and they're big. They're not 6-7 or 6-8 (like Stokes and Maymon). They're big."

Maybe so. But Tennessee outrebounded LSU 40-28 in winning 68-50 in Baton Rouge in the teams' Southeastern Conference opener on Jan. 7. Stokes, who had 15 rebounds, and Maymon outrebounded O'Bryant and Mickey 20-11.

Maybe so. But Cauley-Stein suggested LSU will try to take the initiative physically against UK Tuesday night and against any other opponent.

"They're going to try to bully you," he said. "I think we'll be all right. We'll step up."

Calipari has noted repeatedly that Cauley-Stein needs to hold his own better against physical opponents.

When asked about struggling against physical opponents, Cauley-Stein said of O'Bryant and Mickey, "They probably outweigh me by 40 pounds. I don't know anybody that wants to do that."

Actually, Cauley-Stein's listed weight (244) is 24 pounds more than Mickey, and only 12 pounds lighter than O'Bryant.

"Try to use my strength, quickness, speed," Cauley-Stein said of countering physical opponents. "Pride. Step up to the challenge. That's the only thing you really can do."

Apparently, the questions about his struggles against physical opponents wounded Cauley-Stein's pride.

"Yeah," he said. "You start hearing things, and people making excuses for you, and they have no idea why you were in (a slump) or anything like that. How do you come up with that? Sometimes pride does kick in."

Mickey, a 6-8 freshman, leads the SEC in blocks in league games (3.6 a game). That's motivation, Cauley-Stein said.

"Absolutely," he said. "Hearing about him is going to make you step up. ... Anybody in that position would step up and try to prove themselves."

When asked about Cauley-Stein's pride as a counter to LSU's big men, Calipari suggested how a physical, tangible response would be best.

"Just lower your hips lower than the other guy's hips," the UK coach said.

UK's most physical front-court player, freshman Julius Randle, is familiar with the LSU big men. He and Mickey are both from Dallas.

Randle lauded Mickey's contributions (11.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg), while noting that he doesn't pay much attention to opponents.

O'Bryant, a former McDonald's All-American, leads LSU in scoring (14.6 ppg) and rebounding (7.3 rpg).

"Johnny's certainly a force inside," LSU Coach Johnny Jones said.

Opponents must prepare to contain O'Bryant, said the LSU coach, who used words like "powerful" and "explosive" to describe O'Bryant's impact. Much like Randle for UK, the attention opponents pay to O'Bryant creates opportunities for teammates.

"When Johnny's playing well, we're a much better basketball team," Jones said.

Calipari said O'Bryant can step away from the basket and be effective. He can also free himself for shots by setting picks and then moving toward the three-point line.

"Johnny (Jones) gives him freedom," Calipari said. "That makes him doubly hard (to contain). He's been a challenge for every team they've played this year."

O'Bryant has posted four double-doubles this season. That includes a 22-point, 12-rebound game against Vanderbilt.

Cauley-Stein and O'Bryant figure to meet up around the basket early and often.

"Really skilled," Cauley-Stein said of O'Bryant. " ... I really think if we can contain him — you can't stop him — but if (the Cats) can contain him and make some of the other guys step up, we have a chance."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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