For many Kentucky players, the NCAA Tournament is uncharted territory. Either because they are freshmen (Jamal Murray, Isaiah Briscoe, Skal Labissiere) or because they have greatly enhanced roles (Marcus Lee, Derek Willis).
As Dominique Hawkins said on the eve of Kentucky’s first-round game against Stony Brook, there is a difference.
“I would say there is a different feel,” Hawkins said Wednesday. “I only felt the difference late in the game when the score was close. … If you lose, you don’t get to play again.”
When asked to describe this feeling, Hawkins said, “It’s like a panic. You’re wary. You’re nervous.”
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UK Coach John Calipari spoke of the need to have fun. Point guard Tyler Ulis echoed that thought.
“You have to stay loose and play with a lot of fun,” Ulis said, “because it’s about having fun out there.”
Kentucky should win. But crazy things happen.
Turner analyst Grant Hill
Murray said he’s unfamiliar with a feeling of nervousness. When asked the last time he felt anxious about a basketball game, he said, “Wooo. I can’t (think of) a day or time. Long time ago. I always had butterflies going into games. Once the ball was thrown up, everything went away.”
Onus on ‘bigs’
After UK won the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Calipari said the team’s fate in the NCAA Tournament rested with the performance of the big men.
“I agree,” Marcus Lee said. “The guards do their job, and they do it amazingly (well). The thing we’re really trying to work on, and we’ve always been working on it, is our big-man game.”
Big Blue will go
Grant Hill, the former Duke star who is now an analyst for Turner, said there is a wide possibility of outcomes for Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.
“I think Kentucky could go far,” he said, “or they could go home.”
Hill saw Stony Brook as capable of competing.
“I think there are some teams, when you face a blue blood when you’re a mid-major, they’re just happy to be there, celebrating being there, but you don’t really think you can win. I think these guys think they can win.
“Kentucky should win. But crazy things happen.”
Hill saluted Kentucky’s improvement this season. Then he said, “I think you can get lost in the success from last year, and maybe not appreciate how good this team is, and how good they can be.”
Lee said UK players do not feel that last season’s historic achievement (38-0 start) overshadowed this season’s accomplishments.
“We know we’ve done a lot of growing up this year,” he said. “Our team is different from last year. But we’re still on the same level.
“It’s definitely a normal season. But it’s a normal high-level season, whereas last year doesn’t really happen very often. That rarely happens to anybody. I doubt that will happen in the next 40 years.
“That was a great, historical season. And now, it’s something different and we’re ready to create more history.”
While Hill said Murray was this season’s answer to sharpshooter Devin Booker, Murray could not fully appreciate the compliment.
“I didn’t watch NCAA basketball,” said Murray, who is from Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. “I didn’t watch NBA. I didn’t have cable.”
Murray said he worked out under his father’s watchful eye or shot baskets rather than watch others play.
“I really didn’t focus on that stuff,” he said. “I focused on myself and what I had to do.”
Cal kids NCAA
Calipari said he criticizes the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee’s decisions more out of habit than anything. This year he questioned UK’s seeding and wondered aloud if a potential second-round game against Indiana was no accident. The UK-Indiana series ended when the schools could not agree on sites.
“I like to poke the bear the hour after that show,” he said, “and then after that it really doesn’t matter. I poke the bear and then the bear chases me. They haven’t caught me yet. I’ve run up the tree a few times. But it doesn’t matter at this point. Now it’s like you gotta play games, and it’s not changing.”
Pikiell on UK
Stony Brook Coach Steve Pikiell said he had several concerns about Kentucky.
“Their speed, you know, concerns me greatly at every position,” he said. “They go on huge spurts. Jamal Murray gets on his runs, and he’s a tough guy to guard. And Tyler Ulis is a one-man wrecking crew.
“There’s a lot of things that concern me about the game. You have to play smart. We have to take care of the basketball.”
Kentucky will be playing in Iowa for the first time since Rupp’s Runts beat Dayton and Michigan in Iowa City in 1966. … Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill and sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson will call the game for CBS.