ATLANTA – Baylor and Kentucky aren't the same, but flip their uniforms before the opening tip in their Elite Eight showdown at the Georgia Dome on Sunday afternoon and it would be difficult to tell them apart from each other.
Longer than a Harry Potter book. Faster than a cheetah on five-hour energy. You won't find two more physically gifted rosters than the ones who will play for the right to go to the Final Four.
“We think they're one of the teams in the country that match up really well with us,” Kentucky guard Marquis Teague said. “They've got a lot of talent and athleticism like us. Their team is kind of like ours.”
Few squads can match Kentucky's personnel like Baylor can. The Bears go 6-11, 6-9, 6-7 across the frontcourt and can stage dunk contests that would make Blake Griffin blush if given the opportunity. While the Cats are much bigger in the backcourt, the Bears' ability and willingness to play a zone defense with their superior length has been an issue for most of their opponents this season. In fact, five of Baylor's seven losses came to Kansas and Missouri, two teams that spent the majority of the season in the Top 10.
“I would expect it to be fast but I think they're going to play a lot of zone,” UK coach John Calipari said. “So it's a little harder to go pass, pass, shot, drive against the zone. It may slow the game down a bit. I think that's one of the reasons they'll play zone is that they're looking at it like you're not going to get to the rim and if you do get to the rim there's going to be length there. It's created havoc for a lot of teams.
“(Pierre) Jackson is a water bug and he's really good,” Calipari added. “(Quincy) Acy is what he is. The other guys are all in that mold that I like, which are long. The longer the better, and that's what they are. They've got a shooter (Brady Heslip) that knocks it down kind of like John Jenkins or (Skylar) McBee. If you give him an inch, he gets it all. He got 27 against Colorado and I think he bounced the ball twice. I've never seen anything like it.”
For all the appreciation of Baylor's talent, Kentucky isn't exactly lacking for gifted players either. While the Bears didn't appear to be in awe of the Cats' squad of future NBA players they acknowledged the challenge Kentucky presents.
“They're ranked No. 1 in the country for a reason,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “They are very good. I think what makes them a little different than most teams is they're athletic with size and that size plays like guards. They can all handle. They all can pass and shoot. So the difference is they're just 6-5, 6-7, 6-8 doing it. I know people have always characterized out team and talked about our size and length, so we're excited for the opportunity to play them.”
“We have to be better for the full 40 minutes,” Acy added. “It's going to be crucial for our front line to play as well as our backcourt. They're a great team. They're well rounded, and so are we. I think we'll be tough to beat.”
Conventional wisdom suggests Baylor and Kentucky could stage a track meet similar to what the Cats played against Indiana in the Sweet 16 but the Bears sounded like a team that would be content to slow the pace down and avoid running and gunning with UK.
“They like to get it and go,” Baylor guard Pierre Jackson said. “We've got to stop the ball early and stop Marquis Teague. He's a great point guard. Just got to stop him before he gets it past our court and we've got to know where the ball is.”
Given Baylor's searing Day-Glo uniforms it shouldn't be hard to see the Bears on the court. Couple their fast-paced fun with Kentucky's and the Georgia Dome crowd could be in for a treat on Sunday.
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