Aptly named UK big man Bam Adebayo a big key in Kansas-Kentucky clash

Kentucky's Edrice Adebayo (3) goes up for a dunk during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. Louisville won 73-70. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Forget the 6-foot-10-inch frame or the 260 pounds so generously stacked onto it.

If not for the nickname given to him at an early age, Kentucky freshman Bam Adebayo might not be nearly the imposing figure that he has become on the college basketball landscape.

No matter how talented or physically gifted the young man might have been, there’s no way that the name Edrice Adebayo would have carried with it the awesome visual that so perfectly describes the way he plays.

According to a recent Sports Illustrated feature about Adebayo’s upbringing, the nickname was given to him at the age of 1, when he overturned a table in the family home in Little Washington, North Carolina.

Having stuck with him ever since, Adebayo has been known as much for his nickname as he has his ability to dominate on the floor. And the Kansas men’s basketball team, which will take on Adebayo and the fourth-ranked Wildcats at 5 p.m. Saturday in Lexington, Kentucky, have taken notice.

Kentucky forward Edrice Bam Adebayo, right, dunks the ball over Vanderbilt forward Luke Kornet during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn.

“He’s a monster,” said KU coach Bill Self of Adebayo, who enters Saturday’s showdown averaging 13.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and shooting .624 from the floor. “I think he’s continuing to get better and better…. Not allowing him to catch it at two or three feet (is key) because then he does such a good job of going over and through you to get to the basket. I don’t know his stats, but he’s continuing to score the ball more and it seems like the guys are throwing it to him more and they’re developing more of a low-post presence offensively as the season progresses. Obviously, he’s a big key.”

For the Jayhawks’ to survive the Adebayo effect — the UK big man has made 21 of 25 shots in his last five games and also leads the Wildcats with 62 dunks, just 30 shy of Anthony Davis’ UK record — they’ll have to get contributions from all over the floor. The Kansas guards will have to pressure the perimeter to make entry passes more difficult. KU’s defensive rotation, which has been a weak spot thus far, will have to be on point. And the Jayhawks will have to do whatever possible to make Adebayo uncomfortable and keep him out of the paint.

The one Kansas player best equipped to neutralize Adebayo is senior forward Landen Lucas, who said Thursday that he spent the past couple of games battling a cold but added that he was looking forward to Saturday’s clash with Adebayo.

“I enjoy those challenges,” Lucas admitted. “I’ve always seemed to play better and be more focused and enjoy playing against guys who are the same size and bigger and better, good talent.”

Lucas, four years Adebayo’s senior, carries nearly identical measurements on paper — 6-10, 250 pounds — but looks quite a bit different up close and personal.

“He’s a great player,” Lucas reiterated. “Physically, people compare him to (NBA star) Dwight Howard, so clearly he looks the part and he’s been playing well…. They’re on TV a lot, so whenever you turn on ESPN and stuff you get a chance to see them. It’s fun. I mean, it’s Kentucky. It’s a big-name school. It’s a big match-up.”

How big? Lucas thinks Saturday’s battle might be more worthy of hype than last season’s KU-UK showdown at Allen Fieldhouse that featured No. 4 Kansas knocking off No. 20 Kentucky, 90-84 in overtime.

“I think it might even be bigger this year just because of the records and rankings of the two teams and we’re both in the same situation as far as coming off of a loss and wanting to rebound,” Lucas said. “So I’m looking forward to it. I think it’ll be a big game and definitely something that’ll be fun for everybody to compete in.”