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From the Pressbox: Final Four notes from Leach

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2011-final-four-houston.jpgHOUSTON -- If you're a college basketball fan who likes to crunch numbers, kenpom.com is a great website to visit. Ken Pomeroy focuses on things like points per possession for offense and defense and analysts like ESPN's Jay Bilas have hailed Pomeroy's numbers as one of the best metrics for judging teams.

So what stands out for this Kentucky team as it heads to its first Final Four on Saturday since 1998?

"They're a pretty complete team," Pomeroy said on The Leach Report Radio Show this week. "Of the four teams in the Final Four, I think they're the one that looks like they belong there the most. The Wildcats' offense is excellent."

Kentucky's points-per-possession on offense ranks highest among the Final Four teams. And Pomeroy says all four clubs rank higher on offense than on defense.

What about UConn's profile?

"Their two-point percentage and their 3-point percentage are below the national average, but they're a really good offensive rebounding team, and that's what saves them," he said. "On the season, they've rebounded about 39 percent of their misses (which ranks in the top 10 nationally)."

Pomeroy said UConn's offensive rebounding percentage slipped several points in Big East play, which might speak to why the Huskies finished 9-9 in the league race.  That number would suggest that Terrence Jones' rebounding is a big key Saturday since Jones has Kentucky's best numbers in defensive rebounding.

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If you're looking for a turning point in this unlikely Final Four run for Kentucky, CBS analyst Greg Anthony points to the regular-season finale.

"I thought the win at Tennessee late in the season was a big one for them because it was a road win," Anthony said. "They had lost so many close road games. You could see they were close but you need to get over the hump and that was big for them."

Several weeks back, Anthony sent out a tweet noting that it would be the veteran role players that would determine the Cats' fate and that has proven true.

"Kentucky will go as far as Liggins and Harrelson takes them," Anthony remembers tweeting. "People tweeted back and said 'Don't you mean Knight and Jones?' And I said, 'In order for your stars to shine, the core nucleus has to do their job.' I thought (Josh) Harrelson and (DeAndre) Liggins made so many key plays in that Ohio State game. If they don't make them, Brandon Knight doesn't have the chance to hit that (game-winning) shot."

Anthony said no one should underestimate the job John Calipari has done in leading this team.

"I thought Coach Calipari did one of his finest coaching jobs," Anthony said. "People often times don't realize that coaches don't have the right game plan to attack an opponent. It's not always the players' execution. I thought his game plan was brilliant (in both wins in Newark, N.J.). One of the hardest things to do in sports is meet expectations and he's done that with other teams. This one, though, I think he's exceeded expectations. I don't think anyone thought this team would get to the Final Four, given what they lost." 

As for the Final Four matchup Saturday night, Anthony said beating UConn starts with at least somewhat controlling Kemba Walker.

"His ability opens up the floor for everybody else," Anthony said. "You don't want to be in help mode when you play UConn because it opens up the offensive rebounding and it gives Jeremy Lamb the opportunity to play one-on-one. Those two things are huge."

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"That's what you play for: hats and nets."

That was sophomore Jon Hood's perspective while standing in the UK locker room in Newark after Kentucky punched its Final Four ticket with a 76-69 win over North Carolina. Hood said it's even sweeter to have done it as an underdog.

"Nobody picked us except Charles Barkley," Hood said. "I'd rather them not pick us now."

In mid-February, this UK team stood 5-5 in the Southeastern Conference after a loss at Vanderbilt. How did the turnaround happen?

"We came together," he said. "We learned how to finish out games and who was our go-to guy.

"(People) forget this team. They talk about the recruits for next year and they talk about last year, John (Wall) and all them. But we can play. We believe in each other and we trust each other. And we can flat out shoot it. That's dangerous."

Indeed it is.

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