Cousins on jerk alert vs. Wake

McFarland known for irritating opponents

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 20, 2010 

NEW ORLEANS — If this were the WWE, Chas McFarland would be the "heel," DeMarcus Cousins the "face."

If it were a Batman movie, the Wake Forest senior center would be the Joker to the UK big man's Caped Crusader.

Because it is the NCAA Tournament, what McFarland represents is the ultimate composure test for Kentucky's sometimes combustible freshman center.

When UK faces off against Wake Forest in Saturday's East Regional second round, the matchup of emotionally volatile centers could be pivotal.

Will Rogers — who famously said he never met a man he didn't like — never encountered Chas (pronounced Chase) McFarland on a basketball court.

In its Feb. 22 edition, ESPN The Magazine featured the Wake big man with a headline that asked "why does everyone, no, really, everyone, want to take a swing at Chas McFarland?"

Everywhere Wake goes on the road in the Atlantic Coast Conference, fans boo McFarland. Longtime watchers of that conference say McFarland has become part of an unholy trinity of all-time fan villains that includes J.J. Reddick and Tyler Hansbrough.

The latter two, of course, were college superstars for mega-powers Duke and North Carolina, respectively. McFarland has gotten on that list as a role player simply by being annoying.

"Everywhere we go, people yell and scream at me, tell me how bad I suck," McFarland said Friday. "But they don't boo nobodies, so I must be somebody."

In the last three years, three players playing against Wake have been ejected: all three came after incidents that involved McFarland.

"The thing that makes that kid a good player is, he plays with a lot of passion," Wake Forest Coach Dino Gaudio said of McFarland. "At times, it's bad for him because he plays with too much emotion. I tell him, at times he's, like, emotionally intoxicated. Really. It gets the better of him."

A thin, 7-foot 245-pounder not blessed with robust athleticism, McFarland says he has to rely on emotion, physicality and guile to have any chance to succeed in major college basketball.

"I play with a chip on my shoulder," he said.

If we polled Wake opponents, they might say McFarland also plays with his elbows up high. With a penchant for getting right up next to foes and yelling in their ears. And with a knack for a well-timed shove in the back.

Wake Forest star Al-Farouq Aminu says McFarland's playing style "got under the skin" of Clemson standout Trevor Booker earlier this year and bothered Texas big man Dexter Pittman in Wake's Thursday NCAA opener.

"We'll see what happens. Hopefully, Chas can get under (Cousins') skin a little like that," Aminu said.

At 7.3 points and 7.1 rebounds a game, McFarland is a valuable player on merit. Still, it doesn't take the basketball IQ of Magic Johnson to see that if the Demon Deacons big man could get Cousins (20 double-doubles so far this season) to overreact, which team would benefit more.

UK knows this, too.

"We talked about that on the court (Friday) at practice, and we talked about that (Thursday) night after the game," said Patrick Patterson. "We know. If Chas does do that, hopefully DeMarcus will handle it in the right way."

Cousins came out of Alabama high school basketball with the reputation of a hothead. Though he has a team-high five technical fouls so far this season at UK, he's actually handled himself pretty well on the composure front.

With Kentucky's NCAA title hopes at stake Saturday, he faces the ultimate test: Chas McFarland. Is Big Cuz ready for the Big Agitator?

"I knew that question was coming," Cousins said with animation. "I'm just gonna go play basketball. I'm not going to a fistfight, I'm not going to play dirty, I'm just gonna play ball."

If he can stay calm while facing off with college basketball's No. 1 pest, Big Cuz could become known as the Big Cool.

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