NCAA previews & picks: Kentucky vs. Baylor

Mar 24, 2012 |
NCAA previews & picks: Kentucky vs. Baylor
UK is 10-4 ATS in its last 14 NCAA tournament games as a favorite.
UK is 10-4 ATS in its last 14 NCAA tournament games as a favorite.
No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats vs. No. 3 Baylor Bears (+7.5, 136)

THE STORY: The Wildcats extracted some sweet revenge in the Sweet 16, and now take aim at the program’s 15th trip to the Final Four. To get there, Kentucky will have to contend with a Baylor team that has won eight of its past 10 games and is in its second regional final in the past three seasons.

The Wildcats beat Indiana, who handed Kentucky its only regular-season loss in December, 102-90 in the regional semifinals on Friday as five Wildcats scored in double figures. The Bears face their stiffest challenge so far in the NCAA, having beaten a 14th seed, an 11th seed and a 10th seed in their first three games. Baylor won its first 17 games this season, and five of its seven losses have come to teams ranked in the Top 10. The Bears beat Xavier in the regional semifinals 75-70.

TV: 2:20 p.m. ET, Georgia Dome, CBS.

ABOUT BAYLOR (30-7): In nine seasons as head coach, Scott Drew has resurrected a program rocked by the murder of Patrick Dennehy and harsh NCAA violations. The Bears are fluid and dangerous in the open court, but have a disturbing tendency to play loose with big leads. Senior forward Quincy Acy can dominate inside (as he did against Xavier with 20 points and 15 rebounds), but will be challenged by Kentucky’s athletic frontcourt.

The Bears are one of the more accurate 3-point shooting teams in the nation, ranking 22nd nationally (38.6 percent). Freshman guard Brady Heslip leads the outside assault, hitting 45.6 percent of his attempts beyond the arc (sixth in the nation). But Heslip hit just one 3-pointer against Xavier. A hot day from the outside and the ability to push the tempo could give the Bears a puncher’s chance at derailing Kentucky’s express to New Orleans.

ABOUT KENTUCKY (35-2): Even with national Player of the Year favorite, Anthony Davis, saddled by foul trouble Friday, the Wildcats led most of the way. Kentucky has overwhelmed most of its opposition with a tremendous balance of strong guard play, a dominant frontcourt and excellent interior defense.

Keeping the freshman Davis – the nation’s leading shot blocker – on the floor is critical against the Bears. The Wildcats have six players who can shoulder the scoring load, making defending Kentucky a daunting proposition. Forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist took the lead on Friday, tying a season-high with 24 points. With its defense controlling the backboard and multiple options on offense, Kentucky is the favorite to continue its march to coach John Calipari’s first national championship.


* Bears are 11-5 ATS in their last 16 neutral site games as underdogs.
* Wildcats are 10-4 ATS in their last 14 NCAA tournament games as favorites.
* Over is 6-1 in Bears' last seven overall.
* Over is 4-1 in Wildcats' last five overall.


1. Sunday’s winner faces either Louisville or Florida in the national semifinals next Saturday.

2. Baylor and Kentucky have met once before in the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats beating the Bears in the 1948 national championship game, 58-42.

3. Kentucky ranks 79th in the nation in free-throw percentage (71.9 percent), but shot 35-for-37 (94.6 percent) from the line against Indiana. That’s the most free throws made in a NCAA tournament game since 2007.

Pick: Baylor

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