Elite Eight Notebook

Kentucky comes into Saturday's regional final against West Virginia as perhaps the betting-line favorite to win the NCAA Tournament with other top seeds heading home early. But the players for the Southeastern Conference champions hardly were asked about their opponents during formal interviews at the Carrier Dome on Friday.

In fact, only one question directed at the Wildcats' players was aimed at discussing the game itself -- and even that was only to ask if their freshman phenoms DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall had any familiarity with WVU's squad from before.

"I know Devin Ebanks," said Cousins. "I played against him once. He [scored] like 40 [points]. That's the only player I know."

"All I know is Kevin Jones," Wall added. "I met him at Reebok U Camp when I first was coming on the scene. He's a great player."

  • The Huntington native and UK star junior forward Patrick Patterson was asked about his recruitment process and if the Mountaineers ever entered into the picture for his services.

    Patterson was coming out of Huntington High just as former West Virginia head coach John Beilein was concluding his tenure in Morgantown and departing for Michigan.

    Bob Huggins tried to get involved with Patterson after being hired to coach the Mountaineers in the days following Beilein's exit, but by then, the star recruit (who was overshadowed even in his hometown by O.J. Mayo) had narrowed his list to Kentucky and Florida.

    "I talked to Coach Beilein a lot of times," recalled Patterson, who is completing his undergraduate degree in three years and is widely expected to enter the NBA Draft after this season.

    "As far as being a [WVU] fan, I really wasn't, but I had a lot of interest in them. I went up on tours of the campus and met Coach Beilein, a couple of players and [toured] facilities. I liked it. it was home and all my friends were going there."

    "Coach Huggins came in and picked up where [Beilein] left off in talking to me. But by that time, I had been interested in Kentucky."

  • To hear Wildcats head coach John Calipari tell it, one reason his patchwork cast of former players from the Billy Gillispie era and the plethora of talented recruits he brought in after being hired this spring has meshed so well is simple.

    They just like each other.

    Calipari emphasized that had been a goal of his from the beginning, even showing his team the movie "Remember The Titans" on the first day of practice to try to show the value of building camaraderie with one another.

    "It was about learning to trust, learning to respect, learning to like and then learning to love," said Calipari. "And if you get to the point of loving, you're not going to lose many games. This team has come together that way."

    Of course, that could also be said of the Twitter video-recording, press conference-clowning, self-depreciating band of Mountaineers that will take on Calipari and company Saturday for a spot in the Final Four.

  • When Huggins was hired at West Virginia, he faced a question about his health in his introductory press conference. The coach had famously survived a heart attack he had at the Pittsburgh airport, and there was a Calipari tie to that event.

    "When he had the heart attack at the Pittsburgh airport, my nephew was in the ambulance picking him up," recalled Calipari, who is a native of Moon Township, Pa., just outside of Pittsburgh.

    "When they got him and they put him on the ambulance, he said, ‘Coach Huggins, you're going to be alright. I'm John Calipari's nephew.' And [Huggins] went, ‘Oh, my God. I'm not going to make it.'"

    Of course, Huggins is apt to add a bit to the story.

    "The guy in the back of the ambulance tapped me on the leg and he said, ‘Coach, don't worry. I'm not going to let you die until Cal beats you at least once,'" said the Mountaineers' head coach.

    "No, Bob said that," Calipari said with a smile. "That's what Bob adds. He likes to embellish."

    Calipari's Memphis team did go on to beat Huggins and Cincinnati the next season.

  • Of course, beyond the ambulance story, Calipari and Huggins still have a lengthy history. They have been friends since the latter coach's days at Walsh College and were close enough that Calipari flew in from Memphis to pay Huggins a visit at the hospital after his heart attack.

    That familiarity extends to the hardwood as well, as the Tigers of Calipari and the Bearcats of Huggins were Conference USA rivals for a considerable length of time.

    So there are no secrets in terms of what West Virginia will do in terms of play style to try to advance to its first national semifinal since 1959.

    "Let me just say they're going to play great defense, they're going to rebound, and it's going to be bump-and-grind," said Calipari. "Historically, that's how it's been. The Washington game was a very physical, hand-to-hand kind of game. And that's typically how his teams play."

    "His offense plays to the strength of whoever he has. When he had Nick Van Exel and those guys, he played different than he plays now. He's going to play however he can to win. What makes him what he is, is he will adapt to his team."

    "I also think he raises the bar and he drags the kids to a point where they're not sure they can go. And he just keeps taking them. He doesn't settle for anything less than that."

  • It's safe to say WVU forward Da'Sean Butler has the attention of Calipari, who has turned Kentucky into a 35-2 team only a year after the Wildcats found themselves playing in (and making an early exit from) the NIT.

    A reporter tried to get a question out about the Mountaineers' senior swingman, but Calipari would hardly let him.

    "Oooh, ooh, ooh, is he good," said Calipari, cutting off the question. "I'm watching tape of him make threes, make runners, make runners, posting him up, setting screens where he knocks the guy down and then comes off the screen and makes a three."

    "I'm watching him handle the ball as a point guard. I'm watching him defend, stay in front of people and block shots. I'm like, ‘Whoa.' He is really, really good."

  • In terms of what he expects to see from West Virginia defensively, that will likely include the 1-3-1 zone that was devastatingly effective in the Mountaineers' regional semifinal win over Washington.

    It's hardly a novel approach, as Calipari said teams have thrown every defense at the Wildcats they possibly could -- ranging from the traditional 2-3 zone to more unorthodox defenses like a 3-2 zone, a 1-3-1 zone, a box-and-one and a triangle-and-two.

    The UK head coach said opponents had done that all season hoping his players would miss shots. But the Mountaineers' attack is different, he said.

    "The difference with the 1-3-1 that West Virginia plays is that they're very long," said Calipari. "What we're trying to do in any zone we play [against] is we're trying to get that ball inside. We're trying to get it in there, throw it inside."

    "But it's a little harder against them because their wings are so big, you can't just catch it on a wing and throw it in. They're big. And they do a great job in it."


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