Kentucky (28-5): is headed to the regional finals for the second time in three years and the third time since winning the championship in 1998, the team's first season under coach Tubby Smith. The second-seeded Wildcats will play fifth-seeded Michigan State on Sunday, with the winner headed to the Final Four.
The Wildcats accomplished something Friday night no team has done all season: stymie Utah's All-American big man Andrew Bogut. Primarily using two 7-foot backups and lots of help from smaller guys, the Wildcats harassed Bogut into the poorest shooting game of his All-American season and showed off their depth, spreading their scoring in a 62-52 victory in the Austin Regional semifinals.
Bogut finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds, but it wasn't as good as it sounded. He was 8-of-19 - matching his career high for misses - and a career-worst 4-of-11 from the line. He had just three rebounds in the second half. And, unlike the previous game when he offset 10 points with a career-high seven assists, he didn't have any this time.
Chuck Hayes led Kentucky with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Rajon Rondo scored 10 and Kelenna Azubuike had nine. Kentucky used 13 players and 10 of them scored. The Wildcats made 61.5 percent of their shots; nine of their 15 misses were on 3-pointers.
Michigan State (25-6): defeated the top-seeded Duke Blue Devils, 78-68, in the opening game of the Austin Regional Friday night.
Paul Davis, in what may one day be remembered as the biggest performance of his Spartan career, had a game-high 20 points and 12 rebounds. Three other Spartans hit for double figures (Alan Anderson scored 17, Maurice Ager 14, and Shannon Brown 11) as Michigan State held Duke's J.J. Redick, a National Player of the Year candidate, to 13 points on 4-of-13 shooting.
Center: MSU's Paul Davis (6'11" 255) versus Kentucky's Randolph Morris (6'10" 266)
Morris, a 8.4 ppg and 4.2 rpg player this season, was saddled with foul trouble against Utah Friday, playing only five minutes and racing up a mere two points; so expect him to play with an extra edge Sunday. Davis, on the other hand, blew up and dominated against Duke. Expect Davis to once again be aggressive Sunday against Morris and the rest of the Wildcats' front line.
If Davis finds himself on the bench with foul trouble Sunday, the Spartans could be in big trouble, due to the fact that the Wildcats have much more depth up front than Duke did Friday. Expect Kentucky to try and put the same kind of defensive pressure on Davis that they did on Andrew Bogut. It will be important for Davis to remain aggressive for the Spartans' high-flying offense to keep its balance.
Forward: MSU's Alan Anderson (6'6" 220) versus Kelenna Azubuike (6'6" 220)
Anderson (13.6 ppg) and Azubuike (14.8 ppg) are their respective teams leading scorers and are the barometers for their respective teams. When they play well, their teams are at their best. Look for these two players to go at each other early and often Sunday.
Point Guard: MSU's Drew Neitzel (6'0" 170) versus Kentucky's Rajon Ronjo (6'1" 171)
Ronjo has 84 steals on the season, including 2 against the Utes Friday. Neitzel will once again have to be at his best if the Spartans' offense is to run effectively. Defensively, Neitzel must control the Ronjo, a slasher with a .516 FG percentage and 3.4 assists-per-game.
Keys to Victory:
Kentucky: Stop Davis, Get Back in Transition and Pressure the Guards.
The Wildcats will likely rotate their big men in an effort to slow Davis, and give him more things to think about Sunday. If they can get Davis into foul trouble, it will be all the better for the Wildcats as key reserves Matt Trannon and Drew Naymick simply do not pose the offensive threat that Davis does.
The Wildcats are a defense first team; it is highly unlikely that they will allow the Spartans to run their break as effectively as they usually do. To win they will need to put tremendous pressure on Neitzel and the other Spartan ball handlers to force turnover and put a kink in their fast break offense.
Unlike Duke, the Wildcats have the depth to get it done.
Michigan State: Attack the Basket Offensively, Rebound, and Defend Relentlessly.
The Spartans are at their best when they are aggressive. If they attack the Wildcats in the halfcourt, they can put pressure on the Wildcats and force them into foul trouble. Kentucky for their size, doesn't rebound as well as they should (+1.4 rebounding margin). If Michigan State can control the glass, they will enhance their break and demoralize he Wildcat defense with second chance possessions on the offensive end.
If Michigan State can hit Kentucky Sunday with the kind of team defensive pressure they showed Duke Friday, they will be well on their way to a Final Four birth.
Prediction: It's official, the Spartans are for real; as the seconds ticked off the clock in the final moments against the Blue Devils, you could see in the MSU's players faces – the weight of nearly a year-and-a-half of self-doubt and media/fan criticism float off their shoulders and into oblivion. There isn't a team left in the tournament that the Spartans can't beat.
Final: Michigan State 69, Kentucky 65