Coach Cal Says Teams Want To “Be” Kentucky
By Brandon Castel
When Ohio State faces off against No. 4-seed Kentucky Friday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., there is no question the Buckeyes will be gunning to knock the Wildcats out of the NCAA Tournament.
This OSU team was bounced by an SEC team in the Sweet 16 last year, and they certainly don’t want to see that happen again. They are the No. 1-ranked team in the country and have their sights set on a national championship, but that’s not the only motivation to beat Kentucky this weekend, at least according to their coach.
“(Teams) want to be us,” Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari said on his radio show Monday night.
“Understand that: They want to be us. Not beat us. Be us. So they're coming at you, trying to say, ‘You win against Kentucky, it shows that we're them.' So everybody we play is going to bring it and bring it at a high level.”
The Wildcats have certainly been one of the great programs in the history of college basketball. They have more NCAA Tournament appearances (51) than any other program and they trail only North Carolina in tournament victories.
Their seven NCAA Championships are second only to UCLA, but they have not won the Big Dance since 1998. They advanced to the Elite 8 in their first season under Calipari, but have not been back to the Final Four since Tubby Smith guided them to the national championship in his first season in Lexington.
Calipari himself has been there twice, first with UMass and then with Memphis, but both trips have since been vacated because of NCAA violations. To make things more interesting for the “Big Blue Nation,” Kentucky is 0-5 all time in the NCAA Tournament against Ohio State.
“Now you come back with the No. 1 team in the whole tournament,” Calipari said on his radio show.
“Not a one seed, the No. 1 team. And you're playing them already. We're pretty good, but that's the challenge of this, and I love it. Let's go. Would you want it any other way if you're at Kentucky? Do you want an easy road?”
Apparently not. These two teams met most recently in the tournament back in 1987, with Ohio State beating Kentucky in the first round 91-77. The Buckeyes also got the better of “Big Blue” three straight times in the NCAA Regionals back in the 1960s.
Let’s not forget that Thad Matta’s 2007 Ohio State team also best Calipari’s Memphis squad in the Elite 8 on their way to the national championship game.
“You're going to face the best Ohio State has to give,” Calipari said.
“And would you want it any different? I just hope they're not making every shot they shoot.”
They didn’t make all of them against George Mason in their second-round matchup this past Sunday in Cleveland, but Ohio State did shoot 16-of-26 behind the arc in a 98-66 win over the Patriots. They assisted on 23 of their 36 field goals and turned the ball over just nine times.
“I don't know if I want to watch that George Mason tape,” Calipari said Monday night.
“But I'll say this: If they make 16 threes against anybody, they're going to win. But they do more than that.”
The Buckeyes have four players scoring in double-figures this season, including senior David Lighty, who exploded for 25 points against George Mason, and freshman Jared Sullinger, a finalist for John Wooded Award, given annually to the top player in college basketball.
“You're talking about a team that goes inside and out, wants you to trap, wants to kick it out for threes,” Calipari said.
“Pretty good defensive team, too. That's why they won 30-some games, 34 games. It'll be a challenge.”
Matta certainly prides himself on that last part, and was probably more satisfied with the 15 points George Mason scored to close out the first half than he was with the 50 scored by his own team.
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