"They have talent.?Not quite on par with Kentucky, but not far behind," said Cunningham, a Kentucky native. "Baylor players are sprinkled on those NBA mock draft boards, too. They have two or three on there."
Baylor beat Mississippi State 54-52 and one reason the Bulldogs had a chance to win was that Arnett Moutrie held Baylor sophomore forward Perry Jones to eight points and six rebounds. "He shut him down as well as about anyone did all year," Cunningham said. "It was one of our overall better defensive games. They are a high octane team that can score a lot of points if you don't really defend them."
Cunningham believes Baylor's key player is guard Pierre Jackson, the team's leading scorer.
"He is the type guy in a tourney setting and the game gets close down the stretch and you are grinding, he is one guy who can beat you by himself," Cunningham said. "He beat us on a basket in the last 30 seconds. The game before he did it to West Virginia. He can hit you so many ways. Shooting the 3, getting to the rim. He's tough, athletic. He's terrific in pick and rolls. He's one guy that carries them and we said this is the guy that can beat you, and he still did."
Jackson had 14 points in 28 minutes, but State also held Quincy Acy to seven points on 2-for-7 shooting.
"Our philopshy on Acy was to make him beat us from outside. He can shoot from there, but he's best close to the rim and he plays the 3 (small forward) and normally has a smaller guy guarding him. But we kept him out of the lane," Cunningham said.
Baylor primarily plays a zone defense, and that's what Kentucky coach John Calipari expects. Cunningham said it is a "good zone" that fooled the Bulldogs because of Baylor's length.
"Our players said it was the hardest zone defense they have played against," Cunningham said. "They are so long and really spread out. They put pressure on the ball and make you really make plays to beat them."
Two years ago West Virginia's zone defense gave UK fits in the Elite Eight and denied the Wildcats a Finall Four trip. Cunningham doesn't think that will happen this time.
"Kentucky has put in a new zone offense this year and its zone offense is as good as anybody in the country right now," Cunningham said. "The biggest key is for Kentucky to attack the zone and not just settle for 3-point shots. They've got to get inside the zone and get high percentage shots, and they will. Kentucky is great at that. They are the best team in the country at getting in the pain whether you play man or zone against them.
"They drive in the paint and kick out for 3's or get to the rim or draw help and throw the lob. They won't just settle for 3-pointers against that zone."
Cunningham expects UK?freshman point guard Marquis Teague to be a big key because he'll be defending Jackson.
"If the game is on the line, he's probably going to be the one guarding him. Teague has a tough matchup, but he can stop him. Teague really gets after you defensively," Cunnningham said.
Cunningham noted that Baylor was in the Elite Eight two years ago and it took a controversial call for Duke to advance and eventually win the national title.
"They will be ready for Kentucky and that zone is the X factor in the game," he said.
Still, he thinks Kentucky not only will win the game, but also the national championship.
"Kentucky definitely is the best team left. Their talent level is above anyone else's. They also play so hard and play together so well," Cunningham said. "To have five or six guys who will be first-round draft choices and never see any body language about who takes shots is amazing. They just seem to have such high character kids.
"You never see Anthony Davis talking trash, thumping his chest or making it all about me. He represents them as a whole so well. He will be the No. 1 pick in the draft and all he cares about is winning. That rubs off on that team. They are talented and special. If you are going to beat them, it's really going to take some extraordinary."
Baylor has talent, but not like Kentucky
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