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Notes: Improbable UK-UConn meeting historic

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UK advanced to the national championship game against UConn with a win on Saturday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK advanced to the national championship game against UConn with a win on Saturday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Connecticut hasn't experienced quite the serendipitous turnaround that Kentucky has in reaching the title game, but the Huskies were actually bigger underdogs to make the title game than the Cats.

Statistician Nate Silver, who runs the highly popular FiveThirtyEight blog on ESPN, only gave UConn a 2.0 percent chance to reach the finals when the brackets were unveiled. UK only had a 3.9 percent chance of making the title game.

UConn was seeded one line ahead of the Cats with a No. 7 seed, but the Huskies weren't given much of a chance after their recent performances against Louisville. The Huskies were slaughtered by 33 points in the Derby City on March 8 before losing by 10 points in the American Athletic Conference Tournament finals.

All told, UConn lost three games to U of L by a combined 55 points.

"I'm glad that happened because we went back and I had to evaluate myself as a coach, and I hope every player went to their dorms and looked themselves in the mirror and had to evaluate their effort," UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said. "Down times like that just promote you. So I'm glad it happened, because we all got together, we knew what we had to do, the challenge that was in front of us and we were going to face it. We got better from that."

Since the 33-point drubbing at U of L, UConn has won seven of eight games.

Shabazz Napier has continued to play like a first-team All-American, but the difference in the late-season surge has been forward DeAndre Daniels, whom UK recruited out of high school. Daniels is averaging 15.3 points and 7.6 rebounds since that loss at Louisville.

"We bounced back from that loss and everybody was tuned in, everybody was focused and determined," Daniels said. "We made it to the finals in the conference tournament and lost to Louisville again, but we made a bigger step and we played a lot better."

Improved play aside for both teams, Monday's meeting is still historic. It's the highest combined seeds in the national championship since the tournament started seeding teams in 1978.

"I don't think we were an eight seed and I don't think Connecticut was a seven seed," Calipari said.

Only one No. 8 seed has ever won the tournament (Villanova in 1985) and a No. 7 seed has never done it.

Cauley-Stein out for championship

There will be no mystery about Willie Cauley-Stein's status for the third straight game. The sophomore forward, who injured his left ankle during the Louisville game, will be in street clothes with a jersey over top for the national championship game.

"It's tough," Cauley-Stein said. "It's heartbreaking."

Cauley-Stein's status has improved, as he's ditched the boot and crutches of a week ago for a camera he's been using on the sidelines, but the chance to shoot some behind-the-scenes footage and join his teammates in the celebratory dog piles of the last two games doesn't fill the void of not being able to play.

"I feel like a bystander, like a person just watching because I'm not playing," Cauley-Stein said.

Cauley-Stein has tried to stay positive through the injury as his teammates have tried to lift his spirits up, but he was clearly disappointed on Sunday knowing he won't be able to play in the national championship game after all the time he's put in the last two seasons.

"The only thing I can really do is encourage the team and stay positive even though I can't play," Cauley-Stein said. "I still serve a purpose uplifting people and just staying in people's ears or cheering."

Alex Poythress nearly joined his roommate on the injured list after hurting his leg during Saturday's postgame pile-up. Poythress left the celebration with a noticeable limp but confirmed on Sunday that he's fine and will play on Monday.

Stay in school


With Kentucky in the Final Four, the one-and-done subject has been a hot topic of debate and continued Monday morning with NCAA President Mark Emmert's press conference.

Julius Randle, who figures to be a top-five draft pick if he chooses to leave after this season, was asked Sunday if he would have gone pro out of high school if he would have had the option. His answer might surprise you.

"I probably still would have chosen to go to college," Randle said. "It is what I needed as far as maturity level. A lot of people think they are ready, but in actuality you are really not. I am really happy that I chose to go to college and get that experience of being away from home. This year has been wonderful for me as far as maturity level and kind of growing me into a young man. I am extremely happy, whether they had the rule or not, that I chose to come to college."

Pucker up

Alex Poythress drew a huge smooch on his cheek from Calipari after a play in the second half of the Wisconsin game.

"I kiss them all the time," Calipari said. "I don't kiss them on the lips, but I--"

When Coach Cal thought he heard someone say "ewwww" in the media, he pointed out that all his kids are like family to him.

"They don't need me to be a father figure," Coach Cal said. "They need me in another way, and that's who I am for them. I can't be more proud of all of these guys."

Impressing a Hall of Famer

Wisconsin, as strong as the Badgers were defensively, didn't turn over a lot of opponents during the season, ranking near the nation's worst in turnover percentage.

Having said that, for the Cats to turn the ball over just four times Saturday night, especially when possessions were at a premium against a highly efficient offense, was an impressive feat to legend and former Georgetown coach John Thompson.

"Coach Thompson said to me after the game, Hall of Famer, 'How in the world did your young kids play that offense, defend that offense? How did you have young kids do that?' " Calipari said. "They dialed in. They dialed in. We broke down a few times, (but) the reality of it is they do have a competitive spirit."

The student becomes the teacher

Though Monday will mark the first meeting of Calipari and Ollie as head coaches, it's not the first time their paths will have crossed.

Coach Cal was actually an assistant on the Philadelphia 76ers when Ollie was a player in 2000.

"You know what he was doing while he was playing: He was coaching," Calipari said. "That's how he played. He was an unbelievable student of the game then. He was teaching me when I was in Philly."

Pomeroy streak ends

Barring a historic offensive performance by UConn or a UK shutout, Ken Pomeroy's streak of projecting the national champion will come to an end Monday.

Since Pomeroy began rating teams with his very reliable formula in 2002-03, no team has ever won the national title without being in the top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

Kentucky falls outside the criteria on the defensive side of the ball, where the Cats rank No. 44 in defensive efficiency, while UConn sits outside the offensive criteria at No. 37.  

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