"That is everybody's goal on this team," guard Patrick Sparks said. "You put all your personal goals aside on this team and think about going to the Final Four. It's all about winning. Look at Friday's game. The most shots anyone on our team took was six. You don't see that in the tournament. But we know it is not about any one player. It's about the team." Chuck Hayes made it clear in October that his goal was not to leave Kentucky without reaching the Final Four.
"I don't want to say I have to get to a Final Four to have a successful career, but I think everyone is going to see just how hungry we are to get there by the way we play against Michigan State," Kentucky senior Chuck Hayes said Saturday.
Junior Kelenna Azubuike thought UK was going to the Final Four in 2003 before Keith Bogans' ankle injury led to a regional final loss to Marquette. Last year the Cats were stunned in the second round by Alabama-Birmingham.
"We had the talent to go a long way last year, but we lost (in the second round). Two years ago we lost a heartbreaker (in the regional final). I don't want to have that same feeling again," said Azubuike. "We are younger this year, but I really think we can keep going.
"Everybody on this team firmly believes we can go to the Final Four. That's all we are thinking about."
The problem is that the players at Michigan State sounded, and looked, just as desperate.
"At this time of year if you don't see energy, something is wrong," Michigan State senior guard Chris Hill said.
"Not a lot of teams are left playing," Kelvin Torbert, another Michigan State senior, said. "Our guys don't want to give it up."
"Kentucky is physical, they crash the boards and they run. They look similar to us, but they are not us. There's no way they can want this game as much as we do," State's Alan Anderson said.
So what does this all mean? Simply that Sunday's regional final could be as intense and physical as any game the Wildcats have played all year and for the Cats to win, they are going to have to play at the same level they did at Alabama in mid-February.
But there's just something about this Kentucky team, and coach Tubby Smith, that you have to like. The Cats had their off game Friday. No way will it happen again. Make it UK 68, Michigan State 62.