UK Men's Basketball

What role every Cat could play in Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament run

Photo slideshow: Kentucky tops Vols for fourth straight SEC tourney title

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 29 points to lead Kentucky to its fourth straight Southeastern Conference Tournament championship with a 77-72 win over No. 13 Tennessee on Sunday in St. Louis.
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Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 29 points to lead Kentucky to its fourth straight Southeastern Conference Tournament championship with a 77-72 win over No. 13 Tennessee on Sunday in St. Louis.

The youngest team in the country, Kentucky struggled with consistency this season. As the Cats battle for a Final Four spot in San Antonio, can they avoid those type of ups and downs and string together a tournament run?

The pieces seem to be in place after the Wildcats put together three consistent efforts to win the school’s fourth consecutive Southeastern Conference Tournament. Six different freshmen scored at least 21 points in a game this season and sophomore Wenyen Gabriel made it seven UK players to do so.

This team has also shown it can win outside Rupp Arena. Two of its best wins came at West Virginia (83-76) and at Arkansas (87-72). The road ahead has little room for error as Coach John Calipari tries to make those pieces fit for a stretch run.

Every Wildcat has a role to play. Here is how UK will line up when the tournament tips off this week (statistics are for the regular season):

Hamidou Diallo

Class: Freshman

Position: Guard

Height, weight: 6-5,198

Key stats: 31 starts, 10.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg

About Diallo: He is extremely athletic but struggled late at times trying to force the action. In the first 13 games, he scored double figures 10 times. In the final 14, he did so three times. He made half of his shots once in the final 10 games.

Tourney role: Play with substance over style. Score in the open floor and try to be a defensive hawk.

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Wenyen Gabriel went 7-for-7 from three-point range as Kentucky beat Alabama 86-63 in the SEC Tournament semifinals in St. Louis. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Wenyen Gabriel

Class: Sophomore

Position: Forward

Height, weight: 6-9, 205

Key stats: 6.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 32 blocks

About Gabriel: His high energy has been one thing Coach John Calipari has been able to count on. He is athletic, can make the three-point shot and tied for the team lead with 32 blocks. He was not a big scorer — until his breakout performance in the SEC Tournament — but brings hustle and intangibles.

Tourney role: Set a tone with relentless energy, crash the boards and knock down some three-pointers.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Class: Freshman

Position: Guard

Height, weight: 6-6, 180

Key stats: 13.2 ppg, 4.9 apg, 49 steals, .815 FT pct.

About Gilgeous-Alexander: He has been the team’s most valuable player, leading in minutes, steals and assists. He played 39 minutes four times and scored 20 or more points four times in the regular season, then was named MVP of the SEC Tournament. There were times he carried the team offensively. He is adept at getting inside and scoring with a variety of moves.

Tourney role: Be a facilitator as well as a scorer. Create havoc with defense. He is the straw that stirs the drink.

shaiu
PJ Washington (25) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (22) double-teamed Missouri guard Jordan Geist during their game in Columbia in February. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Quade Green

Class: Freshman

Position: Guard

Height, weight: 6-0, 180

Key stats: 10.3 ppg, .404 3FG pct., 2.6 apg

About Green: He is the team’s best pure shooter. He started the first half of the year but played his best basketball late coming off the bench. He made 11 of 20 three-pointers in the last five games. He had 15 games with three or more assists.

Tourney role: Provide shooting and steady play making, along with improved defense. This team usually plays better when he is on the floor.

Sacha Killeya-Jones

Class: Sophomore

Position: Forward

Height, weight: 6-10, 221

Key stats: 13.3 mpg, .603 FG pct., 3 rpg

About Killeya-Jones: He played 10 or more minutes in 20 games, but none after Feb. 3. He missed two games because of a family funeral. He has a nice shooting touch and had nine rebounds and three blocks against Kansas. In his last six regular-season games he took only three shots, but when Jarred Vanderbilt missed the SEC Tournament with an ankle injury, Killeya-Jones stepped up to play important minutes and make meaningful plays.

Tourney role: Provide a little offense and hold his ground on defense and on the boards.

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Kevin Knox (5) is Kentucky’s leading scorer and usually a barometer for how well the team is playing offensively. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Kevin Knox

Class: Freshman

Position: Forward

Height, weight: 6-9, 215

Key stats: 15.7 ppg, .446 FG pct., .350 3FG pct., 5.3 rpg

About Knox: He is the team’s best offensive player and a likely high NBA Draft pick. He scored 20 or more points nine times in the regular season, including 34 at West Virginia. His 50 three-pointers led the team but he can also score off the dribble or posting up.

Tourney role: Consistently score in a variety of ways, improve defensively and on the boards.

Nick Richards

Class: Freshman

Position: Forward

Height, weight: 6-11, 240

Key stats: 31 starts, 16.2 mpg, .611 FG pct., 5.8 ppg, 32 blocks

About Richards: He has shown flashes, such as his 25-point, 15-rebound game Nov. 22 against Fort Wayne. It was his only game over 12 points. He is long and athletic but at times vanishes. In the final four games, he took three shots.

Tourney role: Be active. Protect the rim on defense and hit the boards. Contribute productive minutes.

Jarred Vanderbilt

Class: Freshman

Position: Forward

Height, weight: 6-9, 214

Key stats: 14 games, 17 mpg, 7.9 rpg, 5.9 ppg

About Vanderbilt: A foot injury sidelined him until the final 14 regular-season games, and then he sat out the SEC Tournament with an ankle injury. His impact, especially on the boards, was immediately felt. He had nine rebounds or more in five of his last six games. He struggled with his shot but made 12 of his last 18 field goal attempts.

Tourney role: He can change a game with high-volume board work. He can also be a play maker but shouldn’t try to force offense.

PJ Washington

Class: Freshman

Position: Forward

Height, weight: 6-7, 236

Key stats: 24 starts, 10.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, .500 FG pct.

About Washington: He finished strong, scoring in double figures in the last six games with five or more rebounds. He led the team in dunks (30), rebounds (166) and foul shots taken (162) during the regular season. He is the team’s most skilled post player and strongest inside presence.

Tourney role: He needs to be an inside warrior each game. No teammate can do as much down low as he can.

Rounding out the roster:

Brad Calipari: 6-0 sophomore guard

Jonny David: 6-2 junior guard

Jemarl Baker: 6-4 freshman guard

Dillon Pulliam: 6-3 junior guard

Tai Wynyard: 6-10 sophomore forward

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