ARLINGTON, Texas – We’re about 24 hours away. UConn and Kentucky go for the while thing.
It’s a fascinating matchup, a No.7 and No. 8 seed, but it’s not as simple as that. No one would have been surprised, back in November, if they knew Kentucky would be here. The Wildcats were ranked No.1 in the preseason poll.
They are loaded with talent, again. Five freshmen, again. Lot of likely one-and-dones, again.
This makes them tough to prep for. Kids this age get better by leaps and bounds, and are unpredictable. They can get rattled, or surprise you with their poise. They had turnover problems most of the season, but had only four – four – in their semifinal against Wisconsin.
But the way this NCAA Tournament has gone, who is going to doubt the Huskies now? Kevin Ollie will come up with something, that’s one of the prevailing currents at AT&T Stadium today. UConn’s defense will rattle the Harrison twins.
Kentucky plays the kind of fast-tempo game UConn prefers, but may have the speed and athletic ability to beat UConn at this style of game, we’ll see. Right now, I like UConn’s chances. Just think the Huskies have “caught lightning in a bottle” as the saying goes.
Here is our main advance on the game. … and, from Paul Doyle, a look at UConn’s defensive tradition. … I imagine you might be interested in Jim Calhoun’s take on the game?
Kevin Ollie at the podium, (thanks to ASAP Sports for the transcription):
“First of all, we want to get back in transition. That’s our No. 1 key every game, especially them. They got a lot of great athletes. They use their quickness, their speed, their jumping ability, to get inside the paint. So we want to locate, want to get back, want to keep them in front of us, and then play solid defense. We want to limit the penetration and make them shoot over the top.
“… Things happen throughout the season. They got great players. But Florida beat Kentucky three times. So, I mean, it’s all about going out there, playing each and every day, each and every game. It’s something different. You got to be able to step up to the challenge.
I tell these guys all the time, You don’t play the game, let the game play you. I thought we did that last night when they came out, and 16?4, we didn’t get down. We kept allowing our defense to take over and our unselfishness to take over and our togetherness to take over.
So I thought we built last night, but I thought we built on a lot of up?and?downs throughout the season. That’s what great teams do. They take the challenge and they get better from it.
So we want to go out there and we want to win one more game. That’s our only goal.
“… We just want DeAndre [Daniels] to play. We always talk about DeAndre with touches. It’s not about points, it’s touches. It’s activity. It’s effort. We consider touches offensive rebound, defensive rebound, 50/50 ball, blocks. When he’s active, he scores.
If you look back through all the stats and our season, if he averaged eight rebounds, he averaged 19 points. So that tells you when he’s active and he’s paying attention to details and he’s going after the ball? we call it collective ball hunters? when he’s a ball hunter, he scores, because he’s that talented.
None of our players got roofs on them. There’s no limits on our players. We’re just going to go play hard and we’re going to play together. It’s no limits in our locker room. There’s no limits in our student?athletes. They don’t have no limits. I would be doing them a disservice if I put limits on them
“[After the win over Florida] I didn’t go to sleep too much. I had to stay up and watch Kentucky and do scouting reports and do those different things. I have an amazing coaching staff and we collaborate on a lot of things, it’s just not me. They do a great job preparing my student?athletes for the war and the battle. So we were up all night preparing.
The only text I got was from Coach [Larry] Brown just saying congratulations and have fun with it. I love him to death. I had an opportunity to talk to him this morning and he just gave me some sound advice, Have fun, don’t make it complicated.
“Hopefully we are in that position, we’re up and we have an opportunity to fall back on our defense. We have been doing that the whole year. It hasn’t been offense, it’s been defense. And that’s what we hang our hats on. I’ve been telling you guys the whole time, Madison Square Garden or not Madison Square Garden, we played defense to win those games. And the same thing we brought here to Texas, we’re going to hang our hat on defense. In that situation, I look at the floor game, who is playing the best defense, the best five out there on the court that can play together and can get one more stop.
Hopefully it comes down to that and hopefully we get one more stop to win a game and to win a National Championship.”
“I knew Ryan [Boatright] was going to be effective defender three years ago. It’s nothing new to me. We wanted him to be more consistent with it and I think he’s starting to do that, and just affect the game in so many different ways.
He had to mature as a young man and a basketball player. It’s not all about scoring. He can impact the game in so many ways and he’s starting to do that at the highest stage. He’s been doing it last year, he’s been doing it this year, and now everybody is seeing it.
But I’ve been seeing it every day in practice. The guy never misses a practice. I mean, for three years, he ain’t missed a practice. So y’all don’t see that. I see it. I know the type of heart he has, but I know the type of heart every one of these guys that are up here and the guys that’s in the locker room, our walk?ons. All of us got heart and we play that way. It’s not a fluke that we are here. It’s core values and it’s principles, it’s not a fluke.
“I’m not here to motivate these guys or inspire these guys. They motivate themselves. I’m just here to add value. I just want to add value each and every day, and if they need something, at the end of the day, they know I got their back. Negative or positive, they can come in my office and I got their back. Every day I come in with the same mindset that I want to get better at something. I want to help them be better men. In basketball is second to me. I want them better people once they leave Storrs campus. If I did that, forget about the wins and losses, National Championship, all that stuff, I think I done my job. If they leave that court, that Storrs campus a better person and a better man, able to make an imprint on their community.”
… Oh, Terrence [Samuel] has been huge. He’s really allowed me to put three point guards on the court at the same time, and it’s really allowing us to create havoc on the defensive end, picking up our pressure. But it’s really allowing us to space the floor and use our dribble drive sets more effectively. He’s just been doing an outstanding job.
“Our defensive mentality, paying attention to details, we always say the genius is in the details. We’re paying attention to more details and these guys know if we lose, we go home. Whenever you got your backs against the wall like these student?athletes have had their backs against the wall, they have fought. They are fighters, everyone of them. They fight to the end. They know if we don’t bring our A?game, and we don’t have a B? or C?game, we got an A?game, then we will go home, and they don’t want to go home. They’re made for more. They’re made for this championship game. We’re going to go out here and play 40 full and hopefully Connecticut is on that big billboard at the Jumbotron, whatever Jerry Jones calls it, saying that we’re National Champions and that’s all we want.
“I knew we were going to fight [after the blowout at Louisville]. I’m going to just tell you what I said. I said if we play like that and we’re going to go home and we’re going to enjoy spring break. But I know we are fighters. When we got back in on that bus and we got back to practice, I can see the look in their eyes, and dark times is what promotes you. I’m glad that happened. 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. 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.
Louisville beat us again in the tournament, but that’s all right. We got better from it. That’s what we want to keep doing. Every challenge, get better from it. Don’t get down on each other. Stay together. I think that even brought us together. So I’m glad Coach Pitino did that to us.”
“… [Regarding Kevin Durant’s praise] I think the world of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Sam Presti, that whole organization, they changed my life. I know Kevin Durant says that, but, man, he changed my life. They took on a 37?year?old point guard that can’t really shoot and gave me another life, another contract. But their organization is so great, they treat everybody first class. They treat the last player on the bench just like they treat KD. KD is a humble young man and everybody gets caught up in that quote, I get caught up in the quote. He said, At the end of the day, I want to be called a servant. And I want all these guys to understand that.
The best player on their team is saying, I want to be a servant, and if we can serve each other, we’ll be a better team. That’s what their organization is built on and that’s why they’re going to be a successful franchise going from years to years to years and showing that consistency, because that’s their motto.”
“[College basketball] goes in ebbs and flows. You have some freshmen that are going to play together and then you’re going to have some freshmen that aren’t not going to play together. Back in ’91 it was a great [Michigan] team. They all came together. They got to the championship game. Great talent. Coach [Steve] Fisher was able to put that talent together and make them work for one goal.
I think that’s what John Calipari does. John does a great job of that. Wonderful coach. Everybody says he’s a great motivator, yeah, but he’s a great coach, too, to get all those guys to buy in and not give up on them.
You see the fruits of their labor right now. They’re playing their best basketball. And that’s what great teams do and that’s what great coaches do, they allow their teams to play the best basketball and grow up and mature. And he does a great job.
Different players have different reasons of going to school. Some players go together, some players don’t. Kentucky has been doing it. They have had great success. If they didn’t have great success, I don’t think it would be repeated, but they’re having great success. Coach Calipari does a great job of identifying who his recruits are and getting them ready for the NBA.”
Seems like John Calipari is always some kind of thorn in the Huskies’ side, doesn’t it? Their histories intertwine again. For the Monday Courant on the complex Calipari and the history with UConn
Go ahead and get a good night’s sleep. Big day tomorrow.