The Cats' routine leading up to the Championship
04/07/2014 11:40 AM
With the National Championship game against the UConn Huskies just hours away, you might be wondering what it’s like for the players leading up to a game of this caliber. After all, even you and the rest of the Big Blue fans you know have a routine that must not be broken until the final buzzer sounds. Whether it’s a lucky shirt, where you sit to watch the game, the volume of the game, no haircuts or shaving until the Cats bring home #9, I get it. But following a routine is also crucial for the players.
Yesterday was no doubt a day of complete rest and recovery: ice baths, stretching, treatment (especially for Julius Randle’s tweaked ankle), and food. Lots of food. Also, the team more than likely had a light walk-through in one of the hotel ballrooms just to hone in on what the Huskies do well.
After a good night’s rest, championship Monday starts off with team breakfast. Everything these guys are putting in their bodies is being assessed because energy is the key. At this stage, the team who best recovers from Saturday’s game has a huge advantage as the game tonight will no doubt be a battle late into the second half. So, other than another quick walk-through and some film breakdown courtesy of assistant coach, John Robic, the team will do nothing but rest until approximately 4 hours prior to tip. Then it’s team dinner, another recap of UConn (how to guard Shabazz Napier), and off to Cowboy Stadium the team goes.
The biggest challenge for Coach Calipari, the assistant coaches, and trainers is to keep the players focused without putting anymore emphasis than necessary on this game. Even though it’s the big show — the most important game of their lives to this point — whatever has been working these past three weeks needs to continue. A good routine helps players become prepared and not anxious. Energized and not amped. Amped works for a kickoff unit on a football team when the objective is to fly down the field and knock someone’s block off. But in basketball, amped means uncharacteristic mistakes, errant passes, and loss of depth perception when shooting. If Kentucky comes into this game with UConn rested, focused, and prepared, half the battle is already won.
Now, in my opinion, here’s what needs to happen after the ball is tipped tonight at 9:10 EST.
Kentucky, as usual, will have a huge advantage in the paint. However, more than any other game this season, Kentucky must capitalize on that size advantage because UConn has two playmakers at guard who have the potential to put up big numbers. UConn head coach, Kevin Ollie, will no doubt be scheming to get Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright in one-on-one situations with UK’s bigger yet slower guards. If not guarded correctly, Kentucky gets into early foul trouble, swinging the game in the Husky’s favor. Good news is Kentucky beat Louisville twice this year, and the Cardinals had one of the most impressive backcourts in the nation — comprised of quick, explosive guys like Russ Smith and Chris Jones.
In order for Kentucky to come away with #9, it’s imperative for Andrew Harrison to handle UConn’s pressure early, getting his teammates the ball in position to score. Like every game so far this tournament, Kentucky may start out slow as they read UConn’s defense and figure out where they can cash in, but Coach Cal has been stellar at making halftime adjustments. On paper, Kentucky has the edge with their size and ability to dominate the boards. With a game like this, though, it seems destined to go down to the wire. Good thing Aaron Harrison is in a Kentucky jersey.
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