As if any Blue-blooded child has a choice, Butler Coach Chris Holtmann grew up in Nicholasville as a Kentucky fan.
“There was Kentucky memorabilia throughout our home,” he said Thursday.
Now, Holtmann finds himself one upset victory away from possibly coaching Butler against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament South Region finals.
First, of course, Butler must beat top-seeded North Carolina and UK beat beat UCLA in Friday’s semifinals.
Never miss a local story.
In this (small b) blue-blooded region, Butler seems the fourth banana.
“I think our guys are excited,” Holtmann said. “I think we’re obviously in an incredible region. Incredible brands. When you’re at this moment in the tournament, you understand you’re going to be playing elite programs whoever you play.”
Holtmann acknowledged having to try to make sure his players are not daunted by the competition. It helps, he said, that Butler has an NCAA Tournament legacy, too.
“So I don’t think our guys go into any particular game feeling like we don’t have a chance,” he said.
Holtmann said he put his wife, Lori, in charge of finding tickets. It’s been her job all season, he said. For the South Region, they needed about 25 tickets for his and her sides of the family, he said.
“We had to dip in and pay for a few, which we were glad to do,” he said. “These are fun times and fun experiences. So we want our family to enjoy it. Hopefully, we can play well, and see what happens.”
Holtmann said he grew up in the Joe B. Hall era. Pictures of himself and Hall, taken when he was a player in UK’s summer camp for children, were displayed in his parents’ home.
He played collegiately for Taylor University. UK showed no recruiting interest.
“Because I wasn’t near good enough,” Holtmann said. “I would have been a good manager for them.”
The family knows how to handle instances when Butler and Kentucky play at the same time.
“My mom, if they’re playing and Butler’s playing, she’ll watch Butler, and she’ll listen with her Walkman head phones to the Kentucky game,” Holtmann said. “So there’s a conflicted interest there for my mom, for sure.”
A Butler-Kentucky Sunday with the winner going to the Final Four would maximize this conflict.
“I think we’ll need to have some heart devices for that one,” Holtmann said. “I think we’d need to be watching my mom’s heart, and my dad’s heart for that one.”
After Kentucky beat Wichita State on Sunday to advance to the Sweet 16, De’Aaron Fox likened the slumping Malik Monk to a volcano.
“He’s a volcano waiting to erupt,” Fox said.
When a reporter playfully noted that the lava was taking a long time to emerge, Fox said, “You have volcanoes that have been dormant for a thousand years. Sometimes it takes time.”
On Thursday, Monk said he had not heard about being a volcano.
“They don’t know when a volcano is going to erupt,” he said. “I don’t know yet. My shot is feeling better. I think I’ve been shooting pretty good. It’s coming.”
Cal in Memphis
UK Coach John Calipari leaving Memphis for Kentucky in 2009 left some Tigers’ fans feeling jilted. But Calipari said he had a warm welcome at a gathering Wednesday night.
“I understand that people were upset that I left,” he said. “I get that … and I accept that.”
Calipari spoke of how he gave Memphis fans many happy moments, including a Final Four ride in 2008.
“I think we did all right here,” he said. “Had some good times.”
Three schools offered him coaching jobs while he led the Memphis program, Calipari said. He turned them down.
“But Kentucky is one that you leave for,” he said. “It just is.”
UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball’s unusual shooting motion begins with him bringing the ball to the left side of his body before shooting across his body.
Backcourt mate Bryce Alford, whose father, Steve, was one of the best shooters in Indiana history, taught his son to use textbook form.
“His form is much different from mine, and what I’ve been taught,” the younger Alford said. “But it goes in. And he works at it really hard.”
Ball has made 42 percent of his three-point shots (79 of 188).
Welsh pick and pop
In the last two meetings, UCLA big man Thomas Welsh has hurt Kentucky with mid-range shooting. Instead of rolling to the basket after setting a pick, he popped to the perimeter and waited for a pass.
In the early December game, Welsh made five of seven shots and scored 14 points. When UCLA beat UK last season, he made eight of 11 shots and scored a game-high 21 points.
“I think it’s one of the things I do extremely well offensively,” Welsh said of the mid-range shooting. “One thing I try to take advantage of. … One thing I’m really confident in.”
His father taught him how to shoot from mid-range, Welsh said.
Much like the UK pick-and-roll that often leads to a lob and dunk, Welsh’s shot can put defenders in a bind. Does an opposing “big” contest Welsh’s shot or stay back to stop a drive by, say, Ball?
UK “big” Bam Adebayo might face that Catch-22.
“It’s going to be tough,” Welsh said, “because it’s one of those things you have to choose.”
Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery and sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson will call the game for CBS.