The Kentucky Wildcats will be tasked with trying to do the impossible on Tuesday: shut down Ben Simmons. The LSU freshman phenom is coming off of a 36-point performance last weekend against Vanderbilt and is averaging 20.5 points, 13.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 2.1 steals per game during his incredible season.
Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne already knows Simmons will play well against the Wildcats.
“He’ll play great against us,” Payne said on Monday according to The Courier-Journal’s Kyle Tucker.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari didn’t attend Monday’s media availability, but admitted that it will take a great gameplan against Simmons during the SEC teleconference earlier in the day.
“You better have a gameplan A and B against him because he can go for 40 (points),” Calipari said. “He is a 6-9 point guard-ish guy that will go inside, score next to the basket, makes free throws so you can’t foul him and in transition when he brings it up he’s a great playmaker.”
Simmons won’t be the only talented freshman taking the floor in Baton Rouge, La. In fact, Tuesday’s battle between Kentucky and LSU will feature the top two freshmen in the country.
Kentucky forward Skal Labissiere entered the year as the No. 2 recruit in the country. Labissiere’s freshman season hasn’t been quite as prolific as Simmons’ debut. The big man is averaging 9.2 points and 3.5 rebounds thus far and has sustained his share of struggles throughout the season.
Labissiere downplayed the matchup with Simmons when speaking with the media on Monday.
“It’s about our team going against LSU,” Labissiere said according to The Lexington Herald-Ledger’s Jerry Tipton.
Labissiere may not view the game as a chance to prove he’s the best freshman in the country, but said Simmons was a great passer and has incredible knowledge about the game, according to Tipton.
Tuesday night will be the first time the Wildcats have squared off against the nation’s top recruit since they played North Carolina and Harrison Barnes in 2010. The Wildcats did a pretty good job against Barnes, holding him to 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting in a 75-73 loss to the Tar Heels.
Payne is hoping the Wildcats will bring the same type of intensity against Simmons.
“I’m sure our guys will feel obligated to go at him,” Payne said according to Tucker. “He gets a lot of hype. Everybody considers him, hands down, the best player in the country. So we should be excited to play against him.”