Hayes is the only Kentucky player capable of matching the physical, aggressive style that Cincinnati will play. Randolph Morris will try. Sheray Thomas might come in and try. Bobby Perry will do his best. None will be able to withstand Cincinnati's strength.
Lukasz Obrzut might be able to come in and help Hayes. He's not afraid of contact and can run the court well enough to stay in the game, but he's also liable to commit fouls in rapid order.
That leaves Hayes to have to carry the load for Kentucky against Cincinnati's physical duo of Jason Maxiell and Eric Hicks.
One has to wonder if Hayes physically will be up to the challenge. No, I'm not questioning his courage or heart. I'm merely wondering about his stamina.
He's averaging 29.2 minutes per game this year -- two less than he did last year. But the difference is that he can never let up this year. He has to be UK's rebounder. He has to cover for others on defense. Sometimes he'll have to help break the press. He has to show others what to do.
The mental and physical stress could be taking a toll. He admitted he was tired in Kentucky's SEC Tournament loss to Florida. He didn't look all that fresh here in Indianapolis either as he had trouble finishing shots against an Eastern Kentucky team that can't compare to Cincinnati's strength.
In his last three games, Hayes is 9-for-27 from the field. Since most of his shots come inside three feet, that's disturbing. He's also not been in double figures in rebounding the last three games and has just one double digit rebounding game in the last 12 games.
To beat Cincinnati, Kentucky needs Patrick Sparks to shoot well. Rajon Rondo has to take care of the ball and also force turnovers. Kelenna Azubuike has to score, draw fouls and rebound.
But the key guy is Hayes. He has to be a warrior on the boards and inspire his teammates to follow his lead. Anything less and the Cats likely are going to be headed home Saturday thinking about what might have been once again.