Kentucky's upcoming game against West Virginia is following an increasingly familiar pattern. Before walking the walk, opponents talk the talk: Kentucky can be beaten and — fill in the blank — is the team to do it.
West Virginia's leading scorer, Juwan Staten, followed the script after the Mountaineers ousted Maryland on Sunday night to advance to a Sweet 16 game against undefeated Kentucky on Thursday.
"Dev said it best; they put their drawers on the same way we put ours on," Staten said in echoing the we're-not-intimidated sentiment of teammate Devin Williams.
Like many previous opponents, especially in the Southeastern Conference and NCAA tournaments, Staten embraced the role of underdog against Kentucky.
"They didn't think we'd get past Buffalo," he said of West Virginia's opening game in the NCAA Tournament. "We got past Buffalo. They didn't think we'd get past Maryland. We got past Maryland.
"I'm pretty sure nobody in the world thinks we're going to get past Kentucky besides the 1.2 million that's in West Virginia. So we're going to keep doing what we do."
Yes. Yes. And Florida freshman Chris Chiozza dismissed the notion of Kentucky's undefeated record and scary-good statistics generating fear. "Nah, I don't see it as an intimidation factor," before the Gators played Kentucky in the SEC Tournament. "I see it as a motivation factor to want to beat that team and knock them off and give them that first loss."
Teammate Jon Horford agreed. UK intimidating? "Not very," he said. "They're a great basketball team, obviously. No one has been able to beat them this year. But it's not something that intimidates us. We see it more of a challenge. We wouldn't want it to be easy. If it's easy, it's not worth it."
And after Kentucky beat Florida 64-49, Auburn volunteered itself as the giant killer.
"We've definitely got a lot of confidence. ... ," said KC Ross-Miller, who prudently added that a recipe for an upset would include Kentucky playing poorly. "We're going to need them to help us out as well, and we're going to have to play great."
And after Kentucky beat Auburn 91-67, Arkansas so eagerly thirsted for a chance to play UK that it annoyed Willie Cauley-Stein. "We don't like that team," he said after Kentucky beat Arkansas 78-63.
In the NCAA Tournament, Hampton Coach Edward Joyner Jr. joked that to help figure out a way to beat Kentucky he had Jesus on speed dial. "Don't take that statement as us being afraid," he said. Kentucky beat Hampton 79-56.
Cincinnati took fearlessness to a new level prior to playing Kentucky on Saturday.
When asked what impressed him about Kentucky's victory over Hampton, Octavius Ellis said, "Nothing impressed me. It's just basketball. It's dunks and everything like any other team. They're the No. 1 team in the nation. At the end of the day it's still basketball."
The Bearcats intimidated? "Not at all," Gary Clark said. "Not one bit."
While noting Kentucky's undefeated status, Cincinnati Associate Coach Larry Davis added, "The one thing about our guys I know is they'll go into the game not afraid."
After Kentucky won 64-51, Cincinnati players remained defiant.
"I definitely think they're beatable," Shaq Thomas said of the Cats. "... You have to execute for 40 minutes."
Teammate Jermaine Sanders said much the same thing. Only more so.
"I think they're a very beatable team," he said. "You just can't give them anything easy."
West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins said much the same thing after his team beat Maryland. "I wish I could sit here and tell you we're definitely going to win," he said at the postgame news conference. "I can't do that. But I can tell you that we're not going to be scared."
Opponents about to be buried by college basketball's Caesar also praise Caesar.
Florida's Dorian Finney-Smith noted how an upset is impossible should Kentucky shoot well from the perimeter. "If they hit a lot of threes, we pretty much don't have a chance," he said.
Arkansas wing Michael Qualls saluted Kentucky's resolve. If an opponent manages to back up the pregame talk, that only seems to embolden Kentucky.
"A very good team in terms of closing games," Qualls said of Kentucky. "That's what you need to be a winner."
Pregame fan gathering
The Northeast Ohio UK Alumni Club will host a pregame gathering for fans beginning at 4 p.m. Thursday at Corner Alley, 402 Euclid Ave., in Cleveland.
Admission is $5 at the door and includes a $5 coupon good for merchandise purchases, access to the VIP and Alumni Room areas inside Corner Alley and a raffle ticket for UK and Cleveland souvenir items.
The UK band and cheerleaders will perform at about 6:45 p.m.
If UK advances to the next round, a repeat event will take place Saturday.
Contact Jill Smith with questions at (859) 257-8906 or firstname.lastname@example.org.