What Do Coaches, Players Have to Say About UK vs. KU? Listen for Yourself
NEW ORLEANS — For two hours on Sunday, Wildcats and Jayhawks, representatives of the two winningest programs in Division I college basketball, spoke about themselves, each other and the matchup Monday night for the NCAA championship.
It’s a re-match of a game played earlier this season, won by Kentucky in Madison Square Garden. The contest also features the two best big men in the college game, UK’s Anthony Davis and KU’s Thomas Robinson (although it’s doubtful they’ll go head-to-head very often).
And for the second time, the title game will see Bill Self and John Calipari shaking hands, before and after. The last time, it happened in 2008, when Calipari’s Memphis team squandered a nine-point lead in the final two minutes, thanks to a clanging flurry of missed free throws which allowed the Jayhawks to come storming back and win Self’s first national title. Calipari is still searching for his. Oddsmakers say it will happen Monday – by six points.
The two coaches and some of their players took turns on the podium at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where they fielded questions lobbed by reporters from all over the country. Click on to the link to listen to the individual answers in this audio notebook.
Calipari looked back on the win over Louisville just once, when a somebody asked him if he had heard about the damage done to property in Lexington following the Cats’ win over the Cards:
Calipari Sunday 2 unhappy with rioters
He was also asked his thoughts on how the fans might react if his team actually wins on Monday:
Calipari Sunday 9 on what he thinks the fans will do if UK wins
A meeting of Kentucky and Kansas instantly prompts thought of a Thomas Robinson vs. Anthony Davis battle in the low post. If it happens, Davis says he’ll be ready. But Self says he’s not so sure it will:
It just might be lanky shot-blocker Jeff Wethey guarding Davis a majority of the time. Both he and Robinson spoke of trying to handle the consensus Player of the Year:
Self said, that’s not the only player the Jayhawks have to worry about when they’re setting defensive matchups:
Both coaches agree that the tough, physical brand of defense played by KU could make it an ugly game:
Darius Miller, the lone senior in Kentucky’s playing rotation, was asked about the pressure along the way all season that led the Wildcats to this point:
Meanwhile, there are few expectations attached to the Jayhawks, who have had to rally in practically all of their tournament games. They trailed Ohio State by 13 points in the semifinal on Saturday. KU’s Tyshawn Taylor says he and his teammates don’t worry about all the build-up to this Kentucky powerhouse:
Kentucky’s win over Kansas earlier this season seems so long ago; KU’s Elijah Johnson talked about looking forward to taking another shot at the top-seeded Wildcats:
Not many people predicted a rematch would happen in the national championship game, although Self admitted that when the brackets were first announced, he let his mind drift to a potential matchup between the two elite programs:
It’s evident Calipari fascinates the national media, who asked him more than once about recruiting potential one-and-done players. The UK coach repeated what he has said repeatedly, that’s it is not his rule, but the NBA’s; that he has offered potential solutions to both NCAA President Mark Emmert and NBA players union president Billy Hunter.
Calipari was asked by a reporter to describe the coach’s perception of his own national reputation:
Calipari talked about his days as a volunteer assistant coach at Kansas, under then head man Ted Owens. He reminisced about working the food line in the cafeteria between practice sessions, doling out “peas or corn” to the students coming through. Self succeeded Calipari in that position at KU, and after finding success at Tulsa and then Illinois, returned to Lawrence as the head coach. He’s a big fan of Calipari, calling him the best salesman in their game:
Beyond all that, Self said, is the fact that Calipari is more than just a recruiter:
UK got the entire package when it hired Calipari, three years ago to the day on Sunday. In less than 24 hours, he’ll attempt to return the Wildcats to the top of the mountain, which is exactly what he’s being paid to do. In fact, it’s beyond that. Calipari was brought in to restore the luster, buried beneath the tarnish brought on by Billy Gillispie. Of course, in Lexington, an occasional trip to the Final Four is not enough. At some point, you have to snag the hardware, and the Cats are expected to do that on Monday night, providing Big Blue fans with their first Shining Moment since 1998.
Calipari talked about that April Fool’s Day in 2009, when he was introduced as UK’s new head coach:
They’ll have more to say tomorrow, shortly after midnight eastern time, when one team is done cutting down the nets and the other is left to wonder, what if?