There are a litany of factors that you can point to and say “this was why UConn beat Kentucky.”
DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller combined to shoot 2-14. Terrence Jones never got into a rhythm offensively. The Wildcats have just five second chance points despite getting 15 offensive rebounds. Josh Harrellson looked like Josh Harrellson from the past three years, not the past three weeks. All of those assertions would be correct.
But the biggest problem Kentucky had was that Brandon Knight, the guy that had been the Wildcat’s sparkplug all season long, struggled. He was 6-23 from the floor and 3-11 from deep. He finished with 17 points, but as Calhoun put it last night, those were “expensive points”.
The credit — or blame, depending on your perspective — for that 6-23 performance lands squarely on the shoulders of Shabazz Napier and Kemba Walker. Those two did a terrific job of keeping Knight in check. They hounded him when he had the ball in his hands and made coming off of every screen difficult. They gave him no room to breathe offensively, cutting down driving lanes and forcing him to take tough, contested shots all night long.
And that is exactly what the Huskies are going to need Walker and Napier to do against Shelvin Mack on Monday night.
Mack plays almost the same role for the Bulldogs that Knight plays for Kentucky. He’s technically their point guard, but he’s more of a scorer that handles then ball than anything. He’s the guy who has the ball in his hands when Butler really needs a back or at the end of a clock. He’s Butler’s play maker. He’s the guy they rely on to take, and make, big shots.
He’s also going to be a much more difficult matchup for Walker and Napier.
Brandon Knight is quick and agile. He’s tough, but he’s not all that strong. When he is playing well, he is beating defenders off of the dribble. Mack is a much stronger player. He can bull his way to the rim and keep a defender on his hip. As good as Walker and Napier are defensively, their real strength on the defensive end of the floor comes in their quickness and agility.
Mack will be a tough matchup for the UConn guards.
Then again, Mack is a tough matchup for anyone. That’s generally the case when you are an all-american.
And slowing down Mack, keeping him from having the kind of performance he had against Kentucky, Pitt, and Florida, will be UConn’s first priority on Monday night.