Wildcats Could Key On OSU's Shooters

For much of the season, freshman forward Jared Sullinger has drawn the attention from opposing teams in the post. Now, after a handful of prolific shooting performances, Kentucky might be focusing its efforts on containing the likes of Jon Diebler (pictured) and OSU's perimeter game.

NEWARK, N.J. – How do you slow down Ohio State's high-powered offense? Kentucky's Terrence Jones thinks his Wildcats have an idea.

"(You) really just (have to) defend and not let them get off a whole bunch of threes," he said Thursday afternoon. "Just make sure we guard the three-point line."

It sounds like pretty simple advice, and advice given with good reason. The Buckeyes enter tonight's Sweet 16 contest with four players who shoot better than 38 percent from three-point range. With a team three-point percentage of 42.4 percent, they lead the nation in that category.

Hot shooting numbers can be impressive, but it typically takes more for a team to make a deep tournament run that solid outside shooting. Enter Jared Sullinger, the nation's freshman of the year and a 6-9, 280-pound post presence who brings balance to the OSU offense.

The end result is an attack that has led the Buckeyes to the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and a 34-2 record. It also puts them in a different category than the past few teams OSU has put on the court. Junior guard William Buford said Sullinger's presence is invaluable for a tournament run.

"That's real important," he said. "Last year we didn't have that. The last couple years we didn't have that. Having a big man that can do some of the things that he can do – he can score, he can rebound, he takes charges, he plays defense down there – really help us out. As guards, he makes it easier for us."

Buford is second on the team at 44.4 percent from three-point range. Leading the way is Jon Diebler, the Big Ten's all-time leader in three-pointers. He has hit exactly half of his 220 attempts this season. In Sunday's win against George Mason, senior David Lighty stepped up and knocked down all seven of his three-point attempts.

In the win against GMU, the Buckeyes hit on 16 of 26 three-point attempts. That marks a program record in the NCAA Tournament. In the final game of the regular season, the Buckeyes went 14 for 15 from deep and set the national percentage record in the process.

"I think they're like our team: everybody on the outside can shoot it," said Jones.

Like the Buckeyes, the Wildcats have four shooters who hit on at least 38 percent of their three-pointers. For the season, they sit at 39.6 percent – 12th-best in the nation. Leading the way is freshman guard Doron Lamb, who has hit 61 of 130 attempts (46.9 percent).

There is at least one difference between the two teams. In addition to being the most prolific shooter on his team, Diebler has taken the most three-pointers by a wide margin. His 220 attempts are 85 more than Buford, who is second on the team.

Meanwhile, freshman point guard Brandon Knight leads the Wildcats with 203 three-point attempts, he is fourth on the team in three-point percentage at 38.4. Knight has taken 73 more treys than Lamb.

In other words, OSU's top three-point shooter is also the one who takes the most shots.

"They play to their strengths," Kentucky head coach John Calipari said of the Buckeyes. "They are very skilled. They shoot, they bounce. They have got great strength; they have got great size. I mean, they're really a terrific basketball team."

Jones averages 16.1 points in the paint and might be matched up one-on-one with Sullinger in the paint if the Wildcats put their primary focus on guarding the perimeter.

"Really if he gets you low, deep and close to the basket, he's going to score," Jones said of Sullinger. "You try to keep him not too deep in the paint."

With OSU's ability to knock down shots from deep, it presents teams with the problem of whether or not they double down on Sullinger. The OSU freshman said he can recall two games in which he was guarded one-on-one: at Florida and home against IUPUI.

In those games, he went off for 26 and 40, respectively.

"When he's down there, you have to give it to him – especially if he's one on one," Buford said. "That's such an advantage for him. When we see him down there like that we just know to get it down there because something good is going to happen."

Said Sullinger on scoring 40: "It happens."

Lamb said he feels the key to victory will be handling Sullinger one-on-one in the post.

"They've got a lot of weapons and they can all score so we have to worry about everybody," he said. "Jared is a big post guy so you have to get your teammates involved.

"It's going to be hard (Friday). We've got to fight it out and play through it. We've got to dig in on Jared and contest every three ball and make it hard for them."

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