Kentucky players say their youth not an issue in NCAA play

Princeton hopes edge in upperclassmen can overcome UK's talent

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 17, 2011 

TAMPA, Fla. — Princeton pins its hopes for an upset of Kentucky on Thursday on one simple premise: Because of an environment unique to the NCAA Tournament, youth will not be served.

After conceding that UK is the more athletic and skilled team in this second-round NBA-versus-MBA game, Princeton noted its greater experience.

"We definitely acknowledge that they're an athletic team," guard Dan Mavraides said on Wednesday. "That's something, obviously, that's highlighted in our scouting report.

"I can't give away any secrets about how we're going to stop that. But ... we're a little bit of an older team. Their star players are younger, and who knows if that's going to have an effect."

Kentucky, which counts three freshmen in its six-man rotation, scoffed at the notion that inexperience would mean something at this stage of the season.

"We beat Notre Dame," Doron Lamb said, "and they have all seniors."

Fellow freshman Terrence Jones also dismissed experience as a telling factor. He noted how Kentucky won at Louisville, beat Notre Dame and played North Carolina to a two-point game.

"I mean, I think that's pretty much the most experience we would have needed," he said. "We've played a lot of great teams that make us the team we are."

The Cats saw themselves as a confident team riding a six-game winning streak. The only loss since Feb. 12 came in overtime at Arkansas when Kentucky missed on multiple attempts at a game-winner at the end of regulation and overtime.

"We have a lot of confidence," Lamb said.

While noting how "we're on a roll right now," Jones suggested that the stumbles that came were part of the process that comes with an inexperienced team growing into an effective unit.

"Now, we know where to go to at the right time," he said. "What shots people can make and  what you can depend on guys to do."

In addition to the experience gained through a long season, Kentucky also brings an irritation to the NCAA Tournament. The Cats spoke openly of the disappointment that came with a No. 4 seed. Enhancing that disappointment was the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee giving a No. 2 seed to Florida, a team UK beat twice in an eight-day period, the second time on Selection Sunday.

"We're upset," Lamb said. "We're better than a four seed."

When a reporter fumbled through a carefully worded question about a chip on UK's collective shoulder because the Selection Committee, uh, screwed up, Lamb blurted, "They did screw up. I think we could have been a three or two seed."

Big man Josh Harrellson noted the team's irritation with the Selection Committee.

"Like a fly that wouldn't go away," he said.

UK Coach John Calipari said that Florida, the regular-season Southeastern Conference champion, deserved its No. 2 seed. As for Kentucky's No. 4 seed, he dismissed its relevance going forward.

Saying he concentrates on his team rather than the opponent, Calipari said, "At the end of the day, I want my team having more fun, and we just said it in the SEC Tournament. You have more fun than any team in this tournament.

"If I've done my job, when people watch us play, they say that team is having fun playing."

Princeton counts two seniors and two juniors — and no freshmen — among the top eight players in its rotation. But when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, the Tigers are just as inexperienced as Kentucky. Until this year, Princeton had not played in an NCAA Tournament since 2004.

"It's our moment against Kentucky, and we're not going to spoil it," Princeton Coach Sydney Johnson said. "I can't tell you if we're going to be perfect out there. I know mistakes are part of the game, but we're not going to waste this opportunity. I won't allow them to do that. We're going to play very, very hard, and I want us to play together and smart, and we'll see how it goes."

The Princeton coach spoke of his team as an underdog.

"When you're the underdog," he said, "you have to show people how good you are."

How well Princeton plays — or how well Kentucky allows Princeton to play — will go a long way to determining the possibilities of an upset.

"There's a level of athleticism there that's not as typical in our conference," the Princeton coach said. "That being said, there's certain ways to play up to that. There's certain ways to neutralize that. You've got to take care of the ball. You can't turn it over and let them capitalize on getting out in transition. We have to shoot the ball at a high clip.

"You know, if we do that, if there's limited possessions, but we're shooting it well, all of a sudden all that athleticism gets neutralized."

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