With 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein's availability in doubt and Alabama's reliance on a four-guard lineup, Kentucky figures to need a secured perimeter Tuesday night.
"This is a guard's game," UK Coach John Calipari said Monday. "This is going to be guards going against each other."
UK's guards looked good in Saturday night's 75-53 victory at Auburn.
Calipari welcomed the newfound prudence freshman Archie Goodwin displayed at Auburn.
"His shot selection was really good," Calipari said on the Southeastern Conference coaches' teleconference. "He played and drove to make his teammates better instead of just trying to shoot the ball."
Later, Calipari called it Goodwin's best game of the season. "Because he didn't take eight bad shots," the UK coach said.
Only once all season had Goodwin taken fewer than the seven shots he put up at Auburn. And, as Calipari noted, his scoring did not suffer. His 12 points nearly matched his average of 15.2 going into the game.
"If he would have made the two free throws he missed, he would have scored about as many points as he scores taking all those bad shots," Calipari said. "When you play for your team, you'll score as many as you'll score. Yet our team looks better. More efficient."
UK coaches have been encouraging the less-is-more approach with Goodwin, reserve guard Jarrod Polson said.
"He just played within himself," Polson said. "And that's what we've been trying to get him to do."
Before Auburn, Goodwin was a fearless (reckless?) attacker of the rim and high-volume shooter. He'd taken 183 shots to score 243 points.When a reporter asked about Goodwin's one-on-three drives in transition, Calipari playfully corrected. "One on five," he said. "Just throw it up there."
Polson saw those attempts as a carryover from high school. "He could probably do that in high school," he said. "He was so talented and athletic. He got away with it in college, too. At the same time, we're just trying to get him to come to jump stops, and he does a really good job with that. That's going to help him, but it's going to help us out."
Calipari also noted Goodwin's growing pride as a defender.
"Now you have an attacking player who's taking pride in his defense versus a player who's taking bad shots and an unenthusiastic defender," the UK coach said.
Calipari also noted what he called Ryan Harrow's "casual" first half at Auburn. "Everybody — including me — wanted to see: What do you have in you, kid?" the UK coach said of the anticipation of Harrow's second half. "What are you going to do? ... He came out and played aggressive. Played tough. He played through bumps."
More of the same will be needed at Alabama. Calipari described the Tide as "really physical, grind it, bump you-grab you kind of team."
Alabama went to a four-guard lineup shortly after center Carl Engstrom, a 7-1 junior, tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee at Cincinnati on Dec. 1.
"For most games we play in the conference, we're undersized," Alabama Coach Anthony Grant said. "For us, it's just about making sure we bring a competitiveness to the court and try to match the size and speed and 'physicality' they can put on the court."
Sophomore Trevor Lacey, once a recruiting target of Kentucky's, led the Tide to a 50-49 victory over Texas A&M. He scored 14 points, grabbed six rebounds, got credit for five assists and made three steals. He also hit the game-winning shot.
"With every game, I think he's getting more and more comfortable with what will be demanded of him," Grant said.
Point guard Trevor Releford leads Alabama in scoring (18.7 points per SEC game). Releford and Lacey rank 1-2 in free-throw attempts for the Tide.
Another guard, senior Andrew Steele, gives Alabama something beyond numbers, as reflected in the Tide's 1-5 December record as he recovered from sports hernia surgery.
"He's a coach on the floor, so to speak," Grant said. "He does a great job of making sure our guys stay in the moment whether things are going really good or really bad. What you want to see out of your veterans."