SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- After Kentucky beat Cornell on Thursday night, West Virginian Patrick Patterson looked forward to Saturday’s East Regional finals against his home-state school.
“That is a huge game for both people from Kentucky and West Virginia,” he said after UK’s 62-45 victory. “(I) definitely look forward to it. . . . They’re a great team. They deserve to be in the Elite Eight and to be this far. Their record shows how well they’ve been playing. I know my teammates and I will get ready and hopefully we can perform well against them.”
West Virginia was among the final four schools on Patterson’s recruiting list as a senior at Huntington (W.Va.) High School.
When asked how much serious consideration he gave attending WVU, Patterson said, “Oh, I was extremely interested.”
He said he liked the coach, then John Beilein, the players, the campus and the team’s solid standing in the Big East Conference.
The game won’t be Patterson’s first against West Virginia school. The teams played a rough-and-tumble game in Las Vegas in November 2008. After the teams combined for 43 fouls and 41 turnovers, UK prevailed 54-43.
Patterson said his memory of the game included “having a bruised elbow and a couple of markings. It was an extremely physical and tough game.” UK Coach John Calipari also spoke of a difficult challenge on Saturday.
“We’re playing against an outstanding team (and) a Hall of Fame coach,” he said of WVU and Coach Bob Huggins. “They have an injury (to point guard Darryl Bryant), which meant everybody on their team just played better, which I knew they would do. You know, it’s an opponent that just went through the Big East and the Big East Tournament and played well. That means they are battle-tested. It’s going to be a very difficult game for us to win. All these young guys. It will be one of those games that they’ll be like, wow. This thing, they’re coming at us left and right. So it will be hard.”
UK not the favorite?
When asked if Kentucky should be considered the favorite to win the NCAA Tournament, Cornell Coach Steve Donahue refused to bite. “I think there’s a lot of positives about Kentucky,” he said. “My concern is that I don’t necessarily think for 40 minutes that they may be able to handle this against a team like us that’s a little more longer and athletic with experience. Maybe the next game. West Virginia is terrific.”
Donahue did salute UK’s defense, which limited Cornell to a season-low 45 points.
“I thought Kentucky came out and played tremendous defense, understanding what our strengths were,” he said. “(UK) did a great job of taking us out of things. But I thought we also at times settled down and were able to run our offense, and for whatever reason, just missed shots that we normally make.”
Calipari took pride in UK’s ability to sustain its defensive effort through entire possessions and an entire game against Cornell. He also noted how significant that was coming from a freshman-oriented team.
“The guys really worked hard to make it hard for them,” he said. “... The discipline it takes to play that way, the focus that it takes for a group of young people like this, you know, in their first NCAA Tournament run was tremendous.”
When asked what it took for the Cats to sustain the defense, Calipari said, “You have to be a disciplined team to be able to stay the whole shot clock. The other end of it is you have to rebound. So you’re playing the full 35 seconds and they’re running back cuts, back screens, side screens, fade screens, ball screens, hand-offs, X cuts. ... It takes a disciplined team. And that’s what’s amazing. You are talking about four freshmen in our top six, three sophomores and Patrick Patterson, who is in his first NCAA Tournament games, too.”
In the second half, Cornell center Jeff Foote slung DeMarcus Cousins to the court. That only a personal foul was called surprised and annoyed Cousins. “I basically got slung to the ground,” the UK big man said. “I was expecting an intentional foul. ...
“If I did something even close to that, I would have been ejected.”
When a reporter suggested that Cousins should have stayed on the floor and pretended to be in pain, he said, “I’d probably gotten a technical for that.” Teammate Daniel Orton also suggested a double-standard was at work.
“That’s really amazing, the way he up and threw DeMarcus down,” Orton said. “It makes no sense at all not to be an intentional foul.” Orton said referees told him this season that they would allow more contact by smaller players against bigger players.
“That’s not fair to me,” he said.
Foote sobs As reporters talked to Cornell players after the game, Foote held a towel to his face. He appeared to be sobbing as his head and hands shook. “I’ll never play with these guys again,” Foote said once he regained his composure. “That’s what makes it very hard. I didn’t want to stop.”
Hype ends For Cornell, defeat meant the end of a national story line about the Ivy League school crashing the NCAA Tournament party.
“The national publicity was great for the school (and) great for the fans to look back on and say, ‘I saw all my friends on SportsCenter,” guard Chris Wroblewski said.
Smart vs. dumb Patterson dismissed the prevalent story line of the Kentucky-Cornell game: That it was a competition between the smart players (Cornell) and, by inference, the less-than-smart players (Kentucky).
“It was all talk,” he said. “The media, we saw it. We laughed at it. But when it came down to it, it’s basketball.”