Coach not buying talk of "down year at UK"

Villanova coach Jay Wright is not listening to all the talk about Kentucky being down this year. Rather than listening to the drum beats from media and fans about Kentucky's "down year," Wright is looking at the Wildcats' tough schedule and their national RPI #13 ranking.

Villanova coach Jay Wright is not listening to all the talk about Kentucky being down this year. Rather than listening to the drum beats from media and fans about Kentucky's "down year," Wright is looking at the Wildcats' tough schedule and their national RPI #13 ranking.

"We're playing an outstanding team," Wright said. "They're a well-coached, disciplined team. What strikes me is their balance. They have outstanding guards in (Joe) Crawford and (Ramel) Bradley, and a good big man in (Randolph) Morris. They have good size and length. They're a very good basketball team. This is what you get when you play Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament. It's going to be fun to play a school like Kentucky with all its tradition."

Wright has told his players to forget the talk about Kentucky being down. Instead, Wright warns, think about their 16 straight trips to the NCAA, their 21 wins, their winning record in a tough conference and their tradition.

Wright dismisses talk from coach Tubby Smith about the team's shortcomings or about Villanova's strengths. One reporter asked coach Wright about this quote from Smith, "We really don't defend well off the dribble," Smith said. "That's been one of our issues all season. A team like Villanova will test that. In their lineup, they're not small, they start 6-8, 6-8, 6-7, 6-2 and 6-2 and all of their guys can put it on the floor and are very mobile. We have to do a better job in that department."

Wright is not buying it. "That's something everybody struggles with," Wright said. "The hardest thing to do is guard guys really good off the dribble. The thing that worries me is that they have such great length. We feel we can go against anybody off the dribble and get to the rim. My concern is their shot-blocking ability."

Wright refers, in large part, to junior Randolph Morris, the 6-foot-11 junior from Georgia, who leads Kentucky in scoring (15.3), rebounding (7.7) and blocked shots (2.0). "Few teams have had an answer for Morris this year," Wright said, "They're big and long," Wright continued. "We'll just have to grind it out to get our shots and play good team defense."

Nova's answer to Morris must include their leading scorer and rebounder, Chris Sumpter, the 6-foot-8 big man who is considered by Wright to the team leader on and off the court. Sumpter could only watch last season when Villanova earned their first-ever No. 1 seed with a team that included current NBA players Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry and Allan Ray. The Wildcats advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals and won a school-record 28 games. Sumpter redshirted last season nursing an injury.

"More than just leading our team on the court, he has been such an inspiration for all of our young guys because they know what he's been through," Wright said. "They saw his frustration, but they also saw a will that was unyielding."

"I'm feeling much better now," said Sumpter. "You can see our chemistry is getting better. It's still not great. I think it's going to continue to get better. Our defense has gotten so much better."

On his current level of play, Sumpter added, "It's been there, then it's been down a little bit, then it's been there. Having little nagging injuries and little things like that. As far as like my mental, I've been there all season. I'm just trying to help my team in other ways."


NOTES: Villanova is 21-5 when Dante Cunningham takes four or more shots in a game.

Current Vegas odds have Villanova as a 1.0 to 1.5 point favorite.

Guard Michael Nardi injured his foot in practice but is expected to play.


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