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From the Pressbox: John Thompson impressed with Cats

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"Coach, it feels like you're doing this a year too late or a year too early."
 
That's how one reporter started a question to Kentucky coach John Calipari after the Cats' 76-69 win over North Carolina that punched their ticket to the Final Four this week in Houston.

Since seeding began in the NCAA Tournament in 1979, Kentucky has never advanced to a Final Four as anything lower than a No. 2 - until now. And despite the barrage of 3s that UK rained down on North Carolina, former Georgetown coach John Thompson was more impressed by how well the Cats guarded the Tar Heels.

"You hear so much about Kentucky's ability to shoot outside, but what impressed the most was their intensity in defense," said Thompson, who worked the games in Newark, N.J. for Westwood One Radio. "I think Cal deserves a lot of credit for getting them to play as a cohesive unit at both ends of the floor and not just one. I think it's a testimony to Cal's ability to be able to do that. The more talented kids have a tendency to want to express themselves. Most talented people don't want to play in a group and he's gotten these guys to form a bond and play together defensively."

That defense will get a supreme challenge this Saturday in Houston from Connecticut star guard Kemba Walker, one of the nation's leading scorers.

"The key to UConn is Walker," Thompson said on the The Leach Report radio show. "You can pretty much be assured that if you clamp down on Walker, Connecticut is going to have a major problem."

So how does an opponent do that?

"I wish I knew the answer to that," Thompson said. "I've seen the Big East try everything. He's a modern day old-time player. Years ago you had a key player that would carry a team. They can try to deny him, try to cover him but the kid has been able to survive that."

Kentucky's best asset in this game is its speed, said the man who led Georgetown to the 1984 national title.

"(DeAndre) Liggins will do a good job but you've got other guys that are good in supporting," Thompson said. "Cal has done a great job of having a team defense. You don't stop a great player with one person. The most misleading thing in basketball is the (term) man-to-man. That man-to-man has to be backed up by a team concept, which Kentucky is very capable of, as they showed against North Carolina."

Thompson said UK's speed was better than he thought when he saw the Cats in person. He also likes the bond this group of players has with their head coach.
 
"Those guys are playing hard for him," Thompson said. "He has a knack of not only coaching his team well but communicating with them."

Back in the '90s, Thompson and Calipari crossed paths in the NCAA Tournament.

"He had a very good team and they beat us and I remember how classy (he was)," Thompson said. "After the game got out of hand, he told his kids he didn't want them to do anything to embarrass me or carry on with any foolishness. He said he had too much respect for me to do that. He didn't tell me that but I heard it from another party. For a young (coach) to feel that way meant an awful lot to me and I've never forgotten it."

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