Brandon Knight hasn't shot well in the NCAA Tournament (35.7 percent), but try telling that to Princeton, Ohio State or North Carolina. His late heroics eliminated Princeton and Ohio State. His five three-pointers did the same against North Carolina. But Kemba Walker has been the national player of the year among players not named Jimmer Fredette. He is fourth in the nation with a scoring average of 23.9 points. So far in the NCAA Tournament, he's averaged 26.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists. "Best player in America," UConn Coach Jim Calhoun called Walker. UK got a firsthand look at Walker when he scored 29 points in an 84-67 beating of the Cats on Maui in November.
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Apples and oranges with DeAndre Liggins of Kentucky and Jeremy Lamb of Connecticut. Mere numbers do not do Liggins justice, although a 13.5-point scoring average in Newark made a good impression. Liggins is the heart and soul of the Kentucky team. He sets the tone defensively. No coincidence that his defense against Joe Mazzulla (West Virginia), Aaron Craft (Ohio State) and Kendall Marshall (North Carolina) sparked UK victories. Lamb owns UConn's only other double-digit scoring average (11.1 ppg) and he's warmed to the task in the NCAA Tournament with averages of 18.3 points and 59 percent shooting accuracy.
Darius Miller was UK's hottest player down the home stretch of the regular season. He scored double-digit points in 10 straight games. He made 22 of 45 three-pointers in that span. After scoring 17 points against Princeton in UK's opening game of the NCAA Tournament, Miller cooled off. He's made only seven of 20 shots (four of 10 from three-point range) in the last three games. UConn freshman Roscoe Smith is a product of Oak Hill Academy. He has averaged 7.0 points and 5.3 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament. He played 11 scoreless minutes against UK on Maui.
Terrence Jones began the season as a precocious freshman scorer. He's evolved into more of a gritty player who can impact a game without scoring a lot of points. Jones has had one double-double (against West Virginia) since the regular season ended. In the last three games, he's had 25 rebounds and 31 points. Recently, he's found his three-point stroke. After making six of 29 three-point attempts in a 19-game stretch, he hit three of five in the Newark games. Alex Oriakhi physically dominated Kentucky in Maui, as his 18 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks suggest. He hasn't scored double-digit points in any of UConn's NCAA Tournament games, but he has grabbed 38 rebounds.
Josh Harrellson has been a revelation in the NCAA Tournament. He capped a surprisingly productive senior season by averaging 14.8 points and nine rebounds in Kentucky's four NCAA Tournament games. After holding his own against Ohio State All-American Jared Sullinger and North Carolina 7-footer Tyler Zeller, Harrellson was named to the all-East Regional team. He's grabbed 36 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament. Charles Okwandu, a native of Nigeria, is the biggest body on the UConn team at 7-foot and 255 pounds. He's a banger and five-foul dispenser as his averages of 2.9 points and 2.7 rebounds suggest.
Doron Lamb, Shabazz Napier, Jamal Coombs-McDaniel. (Niels Giffey)
As the competition stiffened deeper in the tournament, Kentucky no longer could afford to keep DeAndre Liggins in reserve. He was needed too badly. So that made Doron Lamb UK's one-man bench. Lamb is a spot-up three-point shooter, especially effective from the left corner, and an improving defender. He's made five of eight three-point shots in the NCAA Tournament. UConn isn't much deeper. Coombs-McDaniel, a 6-7 sophomore, averages 5.8 points and 2.7 rebounds. He didn't score in the Huskies' two NCAA Tournament games in Anaheim. Freshman guard Napier hurt Kentucky on Maui with 12 points and four assists in 12 minutes. He was named to the Big East all-rookie team.
Kentucky will have the revenge motive going. That's worked well in a multitude of games this season: The second games against Georgia, Vanderbilt and Florida in the regular season, the Southeastern Conference Tournament games against Ole Miss and Alabama, then the NCAA Tournament games against West Virginia and North Carolina. So Kentucky had a 7-0 record in so-called revenge games. In Kemba Walker, UConn has an X factor, a player so good he can take control of a game and determine the outcome almost single-handedly.