Mark Story

How Kentucky and Houston match up — with a game prediction

Ashton Hagans: ‘We learned our lesson in SEC Tournament’

Kentucky basketball point guard Ashton Hagans talks about the importance of not turning the ball over when UK plays Abilene Christian in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, March 21, 2019, at Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla.
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Kentucky basketball point guard Ashton Hagans talks about the importance of not turning the ball over when UK plays Abilene Christian in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, March 21, 2019, at Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla.

How the men’s NCAA Tournament Midwest Region No. 2 seed Kentucky Wildcats (29-6) and No. 3 seed Houston Cougars (33-3) match up at each position — with a game prediction:

Small forward

Kentucky freshman Keldon Johnson (season averages of 13.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg) averaged 17 ppg and 5.0 rpg in UK’s NCAA Tournament wins over Abilene Christian and Wofford last week. Foul trouble limited the 6-foot-6, 211-pound product of South Hill, Va., to only 22 minutes of playing time in Saturday’s 62-56 victory over Wofford. UK will need Johnson on the court more than that to win Friday.

Houston junior Armoni Brooks (13.2 ppg, 38.6 pecent three-point shooting) is one of three guards in Coach Kelvin Sampson’s starting lineup. At 6-3, 195 pounds, the Round Rock, Texas, product is the Cougars’ leading rebounder (6.4 rpg). In Houston’s blowout, first-round win over Georgia State (84-55), Brooks fouled out in 17 minutes with three points and four rebounds. He bounced back for 10 points and six boards in the Cougars’ 74-59 victory over Ohio State in the round of 32. Brooks went for 13 points and nine rebounds when Houston beat eventual SEC regular-season champion LSU 82-76 on Dec. 12.

Advantage: Kentucky

Armoni Brooks Houston.JPG
Though he stands only 6-foot-3, Armoni Brooks is Houston’s leading rebounder (6.4 rpg). Jeff Roberson AP

Power forward

Kentucky’s EJ Montgomery (3.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 36 blocks) started both NCAA tourney games in place of the injured PJ Washington (14.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg). The 6-10, 225-pound freshman from Fort Pierce, Fla., is averaging 4 ppg and 6.5 rpg in the tourney. The Wildcats’ advancement hopes will be buoyed if Washington can return from the sprained left foot that was in a hard cast last week.

Houston’s Fabian White (6.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg) made all six of his field-goal attempts in the round-of-64 win over Georgia State. The 6-7, 230-pound sophomore from Atascocita, Texas, has averaged 8.0 ppg and 5.5 rpg in the NCAAs. White had 10 points in the LSU win.

Advantage: Even

EJ Montgomery vs ACU
With Kentucky star PJ Washington sidelined by a foot injury, freshman EJ Montgomery (23) started UK’s first two NCAA Tournament games and averaged 4.0 ppg and 6.5 rpg. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Center

Kentucky’s Reid Travis (11.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 53.1 percent FGs) was one of the heroes of UK’s opening week of NCAA play. The 6-8, 238-pound graduate transfer from Stanford hit 13 of 20 shots, all six of his free throws and averaged a double-double, 16 ppg and 10 rpg, in the wins over Abilene Christian and Wofford.

Houston’s Breaon Brady (6.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 58.5 percent FGs) had 13 points and eight boards in the round-of-64 win over Georgia State. The 6-8, 260-pound senior from Akron, Ohio, was not as productive vs. his home-state Buckeyes in the round of 32, finishing with three points and three rebounds.

Advantage: Kentucky

Kentucky senior Reid Travis talks about taking off the knee brace he was wearing to support his previously injured knee. Travis scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in UK’s 62-56 win over Wofford on Saturday, March 23, 2019.

Shooting guard

Kentucky’s Tyler Herro (14.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 94.3 percent FTs) made only two of 11 shots vs. Wofford, yet was vital to UK’s victory. The 6-5, 195-pound Milwaukee product hounded Terriers star Fletcher Magee, the most prolific three-point shooter in men’s NCAA Division I history, into 0-of-12 shooting from behind the arc. So far in the NCAAs, Herro is averaging 11.5 ppg and 5.5 rpg.

Houston’s Corey Davis (17.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.8 apg, 38.1 percent on three-pointers) bounced back from a strained hip injury suffered in the Cougars’ loss to Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference Tournament finals to light up the first two rounds of the NCAA tourney. The 6-1, 190-pound senior from Lafayette, La., had 26 points, seven rebounds and six assists with no turnovers in the victory over Georgia State and followed that up with 21 points and six boards against Ohio State.

Advantage: Houston

Corey Davis Houston.JPG
Houston guard Corey Davis is averaging 23.5 points a game in the NCAA Tournament. Jeff Roberson AP

Point guard

Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans (7.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 4.5 apg) played strong in the tense victory over Wofford. The 6-3, 192-pound freshman from Cartersville, Ga., had 12 points, five rebounds and four assists vs. the Terriers. Overall, Hagans did not shoot especially well in the two games last week — 5-of-13, 0-of-2 three-pointers. It will be interesting to see which of Houston’s guards defensive ace Hagans is assigned to guard.

Houston’s Galen Robinson (7.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.9 apg) scored only one point in the win over Georgia State. The 6-1, 190-pound senior from Houston played strong against. Ohio State, however, scoring 13 points with five assists vs. only one turnover. In the December win over LSU, Robinson had a team-high 18 points with five rebounds and six assists.

Advantage: Even

Galen Robinson Houston.JPG
Houston point guard Galen Robinson (25) had 18 points in the Cougars’ 82-76 win over eventual-SEC champion LSU in December. Jeff Roberson AP

Bench

Kentucky’s Jemarl Baker (2.5 ppg, 33.3 percent FGs) was the Wildcats’ unsung hero in the two wins in Jacksonville. The 6-4, 192-pound redshirt freshman averaged 7.5 ppg and provided gritty defense in the victory over Wofford. Nick Richards (4.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, team-high 47 blocks), a 6-11, 244-pound sophomore, is averaging 5.5 ppg and 3.5 rpg in the NCAAs. Freshman point guard Immanuel Quickley (5.3 ppg, 38 percent FGs) is 1-of-9 shooting in the NCAA Tournament.

Houston’s Brison Gresham (3.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 70.5 percent FGs) has yet to miss a shot in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. The 6-8, 225-pound sophomore, a transfer from Massachusetts, is 7-of-7 on field goals and averaging 9.0 ppg. DeJon Jarreau (8.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg), a 6-5, 185-pound redshirt sophomore, and Nate Hinton (7.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg), a 6-5, 210-pound freshman, give Houston the option of going bigger on the wings or playing four guards.

Advantage: Houston

Kentucky basketball’s Jemarl Baker talks to the media about playing a key role off the bench in UK’s 62-56 win over Wofford in a second round game of the NCAA Tournament on March 23, 2019. The Wildcats lay next week in Kansas City.

Intangibles and history

Kentucky is 4-4 vs. the other teams in the round of 16. The Cats have wins over North Carolina, Tennessee and Auburn twice but losses to Duke, LSU and Tennessee twice. Houston is 2-0 vs. the other round-of-16 teams, having beaten Oregon and LSU.

Kentucky is 21-5 all-time in round-of-16 games, 6-1 in the John Calipari coaching era. Houston is 5-5 in the round of 16, but is making its first appearance in a region semifinal since 1984.

UK leads the all-time series with UH 3-1, but the Cougars won the most recent meeting, 83-69, on Dec. 7, 2007.

Advantage: Kentucky

Kelvin Sampson
Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson is 1-1 in his career against Kentucky. Charlie Riedel AP

Prediction

Kentucky 61, Houston 60

For over 70 years, Kentucky basketball fans have shown their passion for the Blue and White during NCAA Tournament time - and sometimes created a little chaos along the way.

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a H-L sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.


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