VAUGHT: UK Game special for Ford

Massachusetts assistant coach Austin Newton is a Kentucky native who knows how much the University of Kentucky basketball program means to fans across the state. He also understands how important UK basketball is to UMass head coach Travis Ford, a former standout player for the Wildcats.

That's why Newton realizes just how special Friday's game in Rupp Arena against Kentucky will be for Ford.

"Being from Kentucky and playing for Kentucky, the game is going to mean a lot to him," said Newton, a Taylor County native who played for Ford at Eastern Kentucky. "His preparation for any game is out of this world as far as how much he does with scouting reports and game preparation. It will be no more or no less for Kentucky, but we all know he wants to make a good impression when he goes to Rupp Arena."

Last week Rick Pitino, Ford's coach at UK, joked that Ford brought Eastern to Kentucky and Louisville to play for the cash guarantee to help his program but that he scheduled the same two teams this year because he felt he could win both games. Ford's team then beat Louisville and goes for the Bluegrass sweep Friday.

"There's no question Rupp Arena will not be as intimidating because we won at Freedom Hall," Newton said. "I think we only won three road games all of last year. That was a point of emphasis this year. Even our conference schedule is ridiculous on the road, so we have to be able to win road game. Going to Freedom Hall and getting a win says a lot about our program. We were 11-2 at home last year. We've been winning at home. The next step is to win at places like Louisville and Lexington."

UMass talked before the season that it needed to win at least two games of its five games against non-league foes Louisville, Kentucky, Miami, Pittsburgh and Boston College. The Minutemen lost at Pitt and then let a home win against Boston College slip away before beating Louisville.

"We've got to play at Kentucky and then have Miami at home. We hope we can reach our preseason goal because that's what it will probably take to get a NCAA Tournament at-large bid if we don't win our conference. So this game at Kentucky is very important for us," Newton said.

The UMass assistant expects Ford to downplay the significance of playing at Rupp Arena to his team just like he did the game against his former coach last week.

"Travis doesn't show lot of emotion, but you knew it meant a lot to him to play against coach Pitino," Newton said. "He did not address that before we play Louisville, but after the game he told the team how much it meant to him and he appreciated how they played.

"He will not talk that much about coming back to Kentucky. He will prepare like it is any other game. That's just the way he coaches, but deep down inside it has to be special and our players will know that."

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