How UK and KSU matchupPOINT GUARD
Kentucky's Andrew Harrison played his best basketball of the season in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. The 6-foot-5 freshman had eight assists in the win over LSU in the quarterfinals, then nine more in UK's semifinals victory over Georgia. Over his last nine games, Harrison has struggled with his shot (24 of 76 field goal tries), however.
Forced to assume the Kansas State point guard role after Angel Rodriguez's surprise transfer, senior Will Spradling (8.2 points, 3.1 rpg, 2.9 assists) is a coach's son with a knack for hitting big shots. His overtime three-pointer from the deep corner was the decisive play in Kansas State's home-court upset victory over Kansas. Spradling will leave K-State having played more minutes than all but two Wildcats all-time.
UK's Aaron Harrison turned it up in the SEC Tournament (17.3 ppg) after struggling down the stretch of the regular season (11-for-43 shooting, 10.2 ppg in the final four contests). Harrison said Thursday he expects to draw the defensive assignment on Kansas State star Marcus Foster.
Foster, a true freshman from Wichita Falls, Texas, has been one of the surprises of the college season. A three-star recruit, Foster leads KSU in scoring (15.6 ppg) and has taken 31.2 percent of his team's shots (he has made 40.4 percent of his three-point shots). Several UK players compared Foster's green light to fire away to that enjoyed by Mississippi's Marshall Henderson.
Advantage: Kansas State
John Calipari used 7-foot freshman Dakari Johnson and 7-foot sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein as a twin-towers look against Florida in the SEC finals. Cal indicated Thursday that he liked what the duo produced while playing together.
The shot-blocking Cauley-Stein (101 shots swatted) is vital to Kentucky's defense; Johnson (15 points, 24 rebounds in three SEC tourney games) brings the Cats an improving offensive game.
Kansas State's Thomas Gipson (11.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg) is a burly 6-7, 265 pounder who, to use a football term, moves the pile. An efficient scorer (56 percent field-goal shooter), Gipson is on a career-best streak of eight-straight double-figure scoring games.
Julius Randle earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors after averaging a double-double (15 ppg, 10.5 rpg). Late in the year, however, Randle's field-goal accuracy has diminished (30-for-78 shooting in his last eight games).
KSU freshman Wesley Iwundu (6.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 41.2 field-goal percentage) played with Aaron and Andrew Harrison with the Houston Defenders AAU program. In his rookie season at K-State, Iwundu has produced three double-doubles and led the Wildcats in rebounding in five games.
James Young has scored in double figures in nine of Kentucky's past 10 games. He hit 15 of 33 shots in the SEC Tournament. The 6-6 Michigan product had back-to-back 10-rebound games against Louisville and Mississippi State, but has not had a double-digit game on the boards since Jan. 8.
Kansas State junior Nino Williams played AAU basketball with Willie Cauley-Stein. After claiming a full-time starting job eight games ago, the 6-5 Williams has averaged 8.8 points and 5.1 rebounds while shooting 50.9 percent.
The seven points Kentucky's Alex Poythress scored against Florida in the SEC championship game was his top scoring effort since getting 10 vs. Mississippi on Feb. 4. After shooting 52.9 percent as a junior, point guard Jarrod Polson has made only 32.4 as a senior. The West Jessamine product brings veteran moxie to a young team.
KSU senior Shane Southwell, a 6-7 forward, had 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists against Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament. It was his first double-figure scoring performance in 10 games. Freshman guard Nigel Johnson had 17 points off the bench in the same game. He's averaged 6.5 points in his last six games.
Advantage: Kansas State
Kentucky is 8-0 all-time against Kansas State, the most consequential of which was UK's 68-58 victory over K-State in the 1951 NCAA championship game. This time, both teams are playing the "chip on the shoulder" card. Willie Cauley-Stein says Kentucky is out "to shock the world," after a disappointing regular season. K-State, which often seems overshadowed by intrastate rival Kansas, can beat a program of a magnitude similar to the Jayhawks if it bests Kentucky on Friday night. KSU is 6-3 against ranked teams this year; UK is 1-6.
Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.