NEWARK, N.J. — With Ohio State All-American Jared Sullinger saying after Friday's game against Kentucky that he would return to college next season, reporters asked UK freshmen about their plans.
Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight did not give a definitive answer. But Doron Lamb seemed to say he was returning.
Speaking in the setting of a formal interview session while seated on a dais, Lamb said, "I am just having fun playing with these teammates and playing with Coach (John Calipari). I just want to have fun. I'll be back next year, so I can't be worried about leaving."
But when reporters and players moved to a more informal interview setting, Lamb seemed less definite. Three times he used the words "right now" to describe what sounded a few minutes earlier like a decision.
Never miss a local story.
"Right now, I'm just worried about this season, really," he said. "Whatever happens, happens. Right now, I'll be back. I'm not worried about the NBA, right now."
Lamb said each UK freshman would make an independent judgment. "If it's the right time for me, I'll leave," he said.
Cal salutes Liggins
Although NCAA rules allow five starters to appear with the coach at a news conference prior to a regional final game, Calipari wanted to make sure reporters knew that sixth man DeAndre Liggins deserved equal recognition.
"DeAndre should be up here," Calipari said in making introductory remarks. " ... Obviously, DeAndre has been as big a player for what's happened for our team, but he will be in the locker room for anybody to talk to."
Calipari agreed with a reporter's contention that defensive contributions do not garner as much attention as scoring or passing or even rebounding.
"The way he plays with the passion, with the intensity, how hard he plays, how hard he works, that is a skill," the UK coach said. "Not every player could do it or every player would do it. Not every player can do it. Every coach at every level is looking for players like him."
Liggins is a threat offensively, as he showed in scoring 15 points (11 in the second half) against top-seeded Ohio State on Friday.
Liggins has steadfastly said he does not care about recognition.
On Saturday, he spoke about taking a leadership role.
"I lead by example," he said. "My play speaks for itself. I talk a little bit, too. When it's time to make that stop on defense, I tell the guys to clamp down and shut them down defensively.
"Maybe, but that's part of my game. What I do. It's part of how I get going myself. Coach Cal tells me I have to have unbelievable passion, for it to rub off on my teammates. That's what I've been doing. We've had success with me doing that."
UK ranks 12th nationally in fewest turnovers with an average of 10.6 per game.
During the current nine-game winning streak, UK's turnovers have numbered seven, nine, 10, 11, seven, six, nine, 10 and 11.
"Our point guard, you know, doesn't turn it over that much," Calipari said before throwing a playful jab at Knight. "Well, sometimes he does.
"But he is not turning it over that much. And he has control of the game. So it starts right."
The UK coach also noted that players like Darius Miller, Lamb, Jones, Josh Harrellson and Liggins are all skilled ball-handlers.
Calipari noted how opposition turnovers fuel North Carolina's up-tempo game.
"That's how they play," Calipari said. "So we have to be as strong as we have ever been."
UK and UNC have met twice before in the NCAA Tournament. Both games were in the regional finals.
UNC won 79-72 in the East Regional finals of 1977 in College Park, Md. And the Tar Heels won 74-61 in the Southeast Regional finals of 1995 in Birmingham.
First or bust
Knight noted the attraction he felt to Kentucky basketball's championship-or-bust mentality.
"They always expect excellence and perfection," he said. "I actually liked that (as a recruit).
"Sometimes, when I got a second-place trophy, I'd put it in the trash. My dad got mad at me for doing stuff like that."
Big screen treatment
Fans can watch the Kentucky-North Carolina game — and any further NCAA Tournament games for UK — on the big screen at the Kentucky Theater. There's no admission.
Manager Fred Mills said doors will open at 3:45 p.m. Sunday for the game against UNC. Popcorn, soft drinks, beer and wine will be available for purchase.
When asked about the atmosphere in the Kentucky Theater for the Ohio State game, Mills wrote in an email: "Wow!! What a game. We had practically a full house. ... A great time."