ST. LOUIS — Week 3 of the March Madness tidbits…..
— UK’s 78-76 win over Wichita State last Sunday was a pure classic battle, ranking as one of the best in Kentucky’s storied basketball history.
It will be remembered for generations to come. The exciting showdown had everything. NCAA tournament. No. 1 seed WSU, a Final Four participant last season, was undefeated at 35-0. Fourteen lead changes. Tied three times. Well-played and hard-fought performances by both teams. With 3.2 seconds remaining (after each team had called a 30-second timeout), the Shockers, down by two, had the ball with a chance to win on a three-pointer. High TV viewership ratings. Unexpected signature victory the Cats sorely needed after only one big win during the campaign (against U of L back in late December).
Said Kentucky coach John Calipari, “This was an Elite Eight game. The winner of this should have gone to the Final Four.”
— With a shocking win over the second-ranked Shockers, Calipari improved his career NCAA tournament record to 40-13, including 15-2 at UK.
— Did you recognize a familiar face on WSU’s bench? Helping coach Gregg Marshall is Steve Forbes, a former Bruce Pearl aide at Tennessee for five seasons.
— Moments after his squad had defeated Cal Poly, Greg Heiar, a third-year assistant coach for Wichita State, sat next to me on the press row last Friday night to scout the Kentucky-Kansas State matchup. He was an extremely pleasant guy, who once coached at Chipola (Fla.) Junior College, compiling a stunning five-year record of 164-15.
— Wichita State did not have a single freshman in the starting lineup while the Wildcats started five freshmen. The Shockers had two seniors, one junior and two sophomores in the lineup.
— Before the UK-WSU contest, blond bomber Ron Baker of the Shockers was really impressed with Kentucky’s Julius Randle, who is now No. 4 in DraftExpress.com’s 2014 NBA mock draft.
“I’ve never seen a 19-year-old as big as Randle in my life,” said Baker, who gunned in 20 points, including four of six three-pointers, against the Cats. “He’s a workhorse. He’s got 119 offensive rebounds throughout the season (before the NCAA tournament action), that’s just crazy.”
— During the 12-hour period between two press conferences on Friday night and Saturday afternoon (held after the Kansas State game and prior to the Wichita State contest), Calipari said he watched five tapes of Shockers games.
“I am all taped out right now. I had to take some time to step away,” commented the coach on Saturday afternoon.
— One of Cal Poly’s famous alumni is baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith. The St. Louis resident was on hand at Scottrade Center to watch Cal Poly face against the Shockers.
— Just received a review copy of Calipari’s new book, which goes on sale on April 15. I will read it after the tournament ends and give you my thoughts.
— UK freshman Aaron Harrison has been a very productive performer during the post-season.
After scoring double-figures in three SEC tournament games, Harrison gunned in 18 points against Kansas State and 19 points against WSU.
— Aaron Harrison’s brother, Andrew, has been doing great lately, too. Andrew led the Cats with 20 points in last Sunday’s contest despite playing with an injured elbow.
Calipari said Andrew had ice applied on his elbow the night before in his hotel room. “The trainer slept with him. Not in the same bed with him, but he was there in that room with him,” smiled Calipari as the reporters laughed. “I’m happy he played.”
— Former LSU coach Dale Brown’s favorite NCAA tournament memory?
“My favorite memory of March Madness is the 1985-86 season,” said Brown in a recent e-mail. “Our team finished in the second division of the SEC with an 8-10 record and an 11th seed into the NCAA tournament.
“The miraculous finish by this team makes them the first 11th seed ever to advance to the Final Four and the only team to ever beat the top three seeds to get there.
“The most remarkable achievement was beating third-ranked Kentucky in the regional championship 59-57 who had beaten us three times during the regular season.”
That UK squad, coached by first-year Wildcat boss Eddie Sutton, finished with a 32-4 mark. All-American senior Kenny Walker led Kentucky in scoring with a season average of 20 points.
And if — that’s a big if — the current Kentucky team were to meet No. 1 Florida in the national title game in Arlington, Texas, it would mark the fourth meeting of the season for both schools. Using the LSU example, the Wildcats obviously would have an advantage over the Gators, who have already beaten UK three times. As you know, it’s very difficult for a team to beat the same club in four straight games.
— New York City’s Madison Square Garden is the site of the East Regional (Iowa State, Connecticut, Virginia and Michigan State) this weekend. Interestingly, MSG, popularly called the world’s most famous arena, is hosting the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1961.
— Senior guard Jarrod Polson said the Wildcats, now 26-10, are motivated in the Big Dance.
“We’ve been through a lot of downs,” he said Sunday afternoon. “A lot of people were down on us all year. We’re just trying to make this run and prove everybody wrong.”
— With UK, Tennessee and Florida advancing to the Sweet Sixteen, the SEC now has a perfect record of 7-0 in the NCAA tournament. How sweet!
— Hoping for a Kentucky-Tennessee Regional final on Sunday. Wow!
— In case you have forgotten, Sports Illustrated had Louisville and Kentucky ranked at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in its preseason poll. And now both rivals will be meeting late Friday night (9:45 p.m.) in Indianapolis for an Elite Eight berth on Sunday. Louisville is a five-point favorite, according to the Vegas line at this writing.
— The highly-respected CBS crew of Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony and Tracy Wolfson will be carrying the Kentucky-Louisville matchup. The network will also carry the Tennessee-Michigan contest (7:15 p.m.).
— Nantz and Anthony are becoming new fathers again. Nantz had a baby daughter born earlier this month. And it’s possible that Anthony could miss this weekend’s action as he is expecting a girl anytime soon.
“What are the odds the broadcast team would have babies born on the road to the Final Four,’’ said Nantz, who was quoted in an article by Dan Caesar of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
— My fearless Midwest Regional forecast:
UK over U of L by 4.
Michigan over UT by 8.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime sports columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is currently a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.