EKU's coach and former Kentucky Wildcats standout, Travis Ford, said he thought this might happen before the announcement was made, "I had a funny feeling this would happen," Ford said, "I have the utmost respect and admiration for Tubby (coach Tubby Smith) and what he has done at UK. We knew we were going to have to play somebody good and UK is a great, great team."
The Colonels made it to the big dance by winning their conference tournament, beating Austin Peay to earn the bid. Ford's team had a very solid season, but had fell one game short of the regular season Ohio Valley Conference title to Tennessee Tech. But still, Ford says he'll take it any way he can get it. He was thrilled to be able to afford his players this special opportunity, "We're excited to be a part of the tournament. I told our players there is nothing like playing in the NCAA tourney. It will be very emotional for me since I will be playing my alma mater. I have a lot of friends that root for both teams."
There are four key players for Eastern:
The team is led by 6-foot-6 senior Michael Haney who produced 12 points and 13 rebounds in the OVC Tournament Championship game and was awarded the Player of the Game honors. The Madisonville, Kentucky product averages 13.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Haney also led the team in December, 2003 when then-number two ranked Kentucky beat the Colonels 101-72.
"Haney just goes out and gets the job done day in and day out," Ford said earlier this year, "He is one of those guys that will take any assignment, guard anybody and give it 100% each time out."
Matt Witt leads the Colonels in scoring. The 6-foot-0 guard averages just over 14 points per game and shoots 33% from three point range. Matt will be looking to redeem himself. He went 0-9 against Kentucky in their last meeting.
Sharpshooter Zach Ingles shoots nearly 40% from three point range and has scored in double digits 18 times this season. The 6-foot-2 junior guard has been shooting around 50% from three point range in March.
Alonzo Hird is a 6-foot-9 center that had 15 points and 14 rebounds against regular season champions Tennessee Tech in their last meeting, "He's a tough one," Ford said, "he won't back down from anyone." Hird shoots over 65% from the field.
One Wildcat that might play just a little harder against EKU is Chuck Hayes. In their last meeting Hayes scored just nine points and had only three rebounds, well below his standards.
Despite the odds, coach Ford feels his team will make him proud, "We're going to be prepared and we're going to play hard. Our guys have worked hard all season and this will be a fun game. I guarantee you there will be lot of maroon in the stands Thursday night."