Tyler Ulis on Yogi Ferrell
Kentucky’s Jamal Murray started slow (1-of-9 shooting, four points in first half) against Stony Brook, but finished with 19 points and seven rebounds. The 6-foot-4, 207 pound product of Kitchener, Ontario (20.1 ppg, 41.8 percent three-point shooting) is having a historic freshman season. With 704 points, he has shattered Brandon Knight’s record of 657 scored by a UK first-year player. Look for Indiana to work hard to limit Murray’s catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Indiana’s Collin Hartman (5 ppg, 3.1 rpg) played efficiently in the Hoosiers’ round-of-64 massacre of Chattanooga. The 6-7, 215-pound junior from Indianapolis hit four of six shots and finished with eight points, four rebounds and five assists in 21 minutes. Don’t be surprised, however, if IU goes mostly with 6-3 sophomore Robert Johnson (8.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.2 assists) against Murray. A Richmond, Va., product, Johnson returned against Chattanooga (seven points, six assists) after missing four games with a sprained ankle. He is considered IU’s best perimeter defender.
Long defined by inconsistent play, Kentucky’s Alex Poythress (10.4 ppg, 6 rpg) has six straight double-figure scoring games, including 12 points and four rebounds against Stony Brook. Against an Indiana team that was second in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding (12 a game), UK needs the 6-8, 230-pound senior from Clarksville, Tenn., to hit the defensive glass hard.
Indiana’s Troy Williams (13 ppg, 6 rpg, 52.4 percent field-goal shooting) was a Third Team All-Big Ten selection. The 6-7, 215-pound junior from Hampton, Va., had 12 points, eight rebounds and four turnovers in IU’s victory over Chattanooga.
Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere tied his career high with six blocked shots against Stony Brook. The 6-11, 225-pound freshman from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, also had 12 points and four rebounds in his first NCAA Tournament game. In UK’s last six games, Labissiere (6.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg) has scored in double figures three times.
At a burly 6-10, 245-pounds, Indiana freshman Thomas Bryant is physically the polar opposite of the willowy Labissiere. A player Kentucky expressed recruiting interest in, Bryant is averaging 11.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg and shooting a ridiculous 68.7 percent. The Rochester, N.Y., product had 13 points (5-of-7 shooting) against Chattanooga.
Kentucky’s Isaiah Briscoe (9.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg) has assumed something of a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist role for the Wildcats — the guy who does the little things it takes to win. The 6-3, 200-pound product of Newark, N.J., recorded a double-double against Stony Brook, with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Don’t be shocked if Briscoe draws the defensive assignment on Indiana star point guard Yogi Ferrell, either.
Indiana’s Nick Zeisloft is a three-point sniper — he’s made 64 of 148 treys, 43.2 percent. A 6-4, 210-pound redshirt senior, Zeisloft (6.8 ppg) is a transfer from Illinois State. If the game is close, UK does not want to see Zeisloft at the foul line — he’s a 90.5-percent free throw shooter (19-for-21).
Putting an exclamation point on a banner year, Tyler Ulis’ seven assists against Stony Brook gave him 243 in 2015-16, two more than John Wall’s previous Kentucky single-season record. The SEC Player of the Year and SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Ulis (17 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 7.2 assists) has a history of stepping up big in marquee games: He’s averaging 24 points this season against ranked foes.
Amazingly for a very good player with 135 career starts, Indiana’s Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell recorded the first double-double (20 points, 10 assists) of his IU career against Chattanooga. The 6-foot, 180-pound senior (17.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5.7 assists) is also a high-level, on-the-ball defender. The IU star vs. Ulis is a showdown of elite college point guards.
In 19 minutes against Stony Brook, UK’s Derek Willis packed in a lot of production — eight points, five rebounds, two blocked shots. Going back to the SEC Tournament, the 6-9, 220-pound Bullitt East product (8 ppg, 4 rpg) has played three strong games in a row. Marcus Lee’s bouncy athleticism produced 10 points and eight rebounds in 15 minutes against a Big Ten team, Michigan, in the 2014 NCAA round of eight. UK would gladly take a similar effort from the 6-9, 224-pound junior against the 2016 Big Ten regular-season champion.
Indiana’s Max Bielfeldt (8.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 51.5 percent field-goal shooting) is the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year. A transfer from Michigan, Bielfeldt (pronounced Bee-felt) had no points and two rebounds against UK in the 2014 NCAA tourney. But the 6-8, 240-pound senior is capable of big performances against top teams — he had 15 points and 10 rebounds against Michigan State. The athleticism and potential of OG Anunoby, a 6-8 freshman from Jefferson City, Mo., has drawn comparisons in Indiana to former Hoosiers star Victor Oladipo. Against Chattanooga, Anunoby had 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting and threw in a 360 dunk. He could be a major X-factor Saturday.
Indiana Coach Tom Crean is 2-1 against Kentucky in NCAA Tournament games. Crean beat the Cats twice (2003, 2008) as Marquette head man but lost his only NCAA tourney meeting vs. UK (2012) while at IU. In any rivalry, emotions tend to run stronger on the side that has enjoyed the least recent success. In its last 22 meetings with Kentucky, Indiana is 5-17. That, coupled with the fact IU fans blame John Calipari for the end of the regular-season series between the Cats and Hoosiers, should make for a lot of Indiana emotion.
Kentucky 86, Indiana 83