Kentucky-Michigan notes: Hood embraces trophy — and UK's freshman focus

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 30, 2014 

INDIANAPOLIS — Senior Jon Hood sat in a folding chair in Kentucky's locker room after the 75-72 victory over Michigan on Sunday. The Midwest Region championship trophy rested on his right thigh like a ventriloquist's dummy.

If it spoke, the trophy might say something like, "Boy, this Hood guy sure is holding me tightly."

Hood said this man-and-trophy moment was following an example set by Darius Miller in 2012.

"I saw Darius do it," Hood said. "He had every trophy we won in his hands."

Whether Hood gets more trophies to embrace remains to be seen. But he made sure to get this one. He noticed Aaron Harrison, who hit the game-winning shot against Michigan, hold it aloft from the makeshift podium wheeled onto the Lucas Oil Stadium court after the game. Then, Hood made sure to get his hands on it.

"I came from the back, took it with both hands and shoved it into my chest," he said. "Nobody's taken it since."

Hood agreed with the premise of a reporter's question: the Midwest Region championship validated UK Coach John Calipari's reliance on freshmen.

"We started five freshmen," Hood said. "We played seven freshmen. Who says it can't be done? We're back in the Final Four. So all the people who said it couldn't be done, it's here. And we're going to try to make it happen again."

Fighting fatigue

No one should say Kentucky did not earn its advancement to the Final Four. In beating Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan, the Cats beat teams that came into those games with a combined record of 94-13.

Maybe more significantly, each game took a toll emotionally and physically.

Of the game Sunday, Michigan Coach John Beilein said, "I think even the people that were sitting in the highest seats got their money's worth."

Business as usual for Kentucky. Counting the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game, UK battled through five straight competitive games (200 game minutes) in which the difference totaled only 16 points.

"I'm done," Dakari Johnson said.

Said Hood: "I'm exhausted. I'll sleep the entire plane ride back, which is only 30 minutes. ... I'll sleep on the bus (from arena to airport). Everybody's exhausted. Everybody's tired. But there's four teams left."

Andrew Harrison acknowledged fatigue before 40 more minutes of grind against Michigan.

"Oh, I was sore when I woke up this morning," he said. "Very sore. You just have to fight it. It's the love of the game."

With the next game Saturday's national semifinals, the theoretical prospect of three or four or five days off loomed.

"We won't have three, four, five days off," Harrison said. "We might have a day off. Maybe."

Game changer

Michigan forward Jon Horford acknowledged that Marcus Lee did not factor in his team's game plan.

"He was someone that the coaches (said) we don't have to worry about him too much," he said. "He's a great player, obviously. But he's not going to change the game.

"And he came in and he changed the game."

Horford said relative obscurity helped Lee get scores off offensive rebounds.

"We thought we could just help off him," he said, "but he finished with putbacks on the opposite side."

Go East, young man

Scott Grimshaw, the Brigham Young statistics professor who studied television ratings in Final Fours from the past 11 years, noted a trend linking higher ratings for teams based in the Eastern time zone.

"As much as people in the West like me whine about East Coast bias, more people live in the East and South," he said.

Coincidentally, no team from outside the Eastern and Central time zones has played in the Final Four since UCLA in 2008. With Arizona losing to Wisconsin in the West Region finals Saturday, that trend continues.

UCLA in 2008 is the only team from the Mountain or Pacific time zones in the Final Four since Arizona in 2001.

And 15 of the last 16 national champions came from the Eastern time zone. The exception: Kansas in 2008.

Not since 1941

Wisconsin, which will play Kentucky on Saturday in the second national semifinal, has not won a Final Four game since eight months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Badgers beat Pittsburgh and Washington State for the 1941 national championship.

Wisconsin's only other Final Four appearance since then came in 2000. The Badgers lost 53-41 to Michigan State in the semifinals.

Wisconsin has beaten three No. 1 seeds this season: Florida and Virginia in the regular season, then Arizona on Saturday.

30 straight

Florida will bring a 30-game winning streak to the Final Four. That's thought to be the longest winning streak going into a Final Four since Duke won 32 straight going into the 1999 Final Four.

But the Gators haven't been as dominant as the winning streak suggests. Sixteen times during the streak, Florida has won by 10 or fewer points. Thirteen times the margin was less than 10.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: UKbasketball.bloginky.com.

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