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March 11, 2012

Calipari says Cats' region is 'stacked'

There's Connecticut. There's Indiana. There's Duke.

Kentucky is the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, but coach John Calipari said the Wildcats' potential road to the Final Four, which includes those three college basketball blue bloods, will be anything but a cake walk.

"I keep getting everybody saying we have the toughest region, but that's what was expected," Calipari said to a group of media at his home on Sunday night. "We're just happy not to be playing on Tuesday. ... First game will be hard. Second game will be like a war. If we're lucky enough to be going from there, then it's one team after another. So they stacked the region, and that's OK. We play all comers right now, and I imagine wherever we go there's going to be a lot of blue."

Storylines abound in UK's potential matchups.

The Cats (32-2), who saw their 24-game winning streak snapped by Vanderbilt on Sunday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament final, will open NCAA play on Thursday at 6:50 p.m. EDT in Louisville against the Tuesday winner of Mississippi Valley State - coached by former UK player Sean Woods - and in-state Cinderella Western Kentucky.

A potential second game on Saturday would be against the winner of eighth-seeded Iowa State and ninth-seed Connecticut. The Huskies, the defending national champions, defeated UK in last year's Final Four.

Fourth-seeded Indiana, which beat UK in December on a last-second shot, is a potential Sweet 16 opponent. Second-seeded Duke, who faced UK in two epic regional finals in the 1990s, including the classic 20 years ago against Woods' team, is a potential opponent in this year's Elite Eight.

"The only thing I was happy about; I heard they were trying to get an exemption for the (Miami) Heat to be the second seed in our bracket, and they weren't allowed to get that, so they couldn't put them in there, too," Calipari joked.

Calipari said he told Indiana coach Tom Crean that he expected the teams to placed in the same region in the tournament, just as UK had to face West Virginia again in 2011 after losing to the Mountaineers in 2010.

UK freshman point guard Marquis Teague, a native of Indianapolis, said he'd like another shot at the Hoosiers.

"I told my teammates I want to play them," he said. "That would be a great game for us. We'd love to get them again."

UConn makes for another possible rematch opponent.

"If we play UConn, it'll be a great game," sophomore guard Doron Lamb said. "They've got great players and a great coaches. It would be just like last year, go hard for 40 minutes and see who wins the game."

Calipari said he's happy that both Woods' MVSU team and WKU are in the tournament.

He said he's known Woods for many years because Woods is close friends with Calipari's former player and assistant Tony Barbee, now the coach at Auburn.

"(Woods) has done a terrific job, and we're all proud of him," Calipari said.

WKU, which fired coach Ken McDonald midseason, replaced him with assistant Ray Harper, then proceeded to win the Sun Belt Conference Tournament with a 15-18 record; will be a team "on a mission" this week, Calipari said.

"A coaching change is always tough on young people, and for those guys and their coach to do what they've done is just phenomenal," he said.

A UK-WKU matchup would pit freshmen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of UK against Derrick Gordon of WKU, who are friends and former teammates at powerhouse St. Patrick High School in New Jersey.

Kidd-Gilchrist said he and Gordon have a "very close" relationship, and Kidd-Gilchrist planned to call Gordon on Sunday night to wish him luck on Tuesday.

Whoever UK plays, the Cats figure to have an overwhelming crowd advantage for the games in Louisville's KFC Yum! Center.

"It's definitely going to be a home game for us," freshman center Anthony Davis said. "... All the fans are going to come and support us. I'm glad it's in Louisville and we don't have to travel too far."

Calipari said that after playing three games in three days in New Orleans he planned to give the team Monday off "to get our breath back." Then the Cats begin the difficult task of trying to win six straight NCAA games.

"I've been in this tournament a ton, and I know seed matters," he said. " ... The matchups matter because there are some that get that path, and then there's another guy that's in fox holes with bazooka shots coming at him. ... It's hard for everybody because it's a one-and-you're-done kind of game, but I enjoy going in with good teams and this is a good team."

****

Here is a video of Calipari's comments on the brackets, which he said he'd not reviewed at length at that time, in a session with the media on his back patio.

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UK was traveling back from New Orleans when the CBS tournament selection show aired live, and the team learned its seeding after landing at the Lexington airport.

The team convened in Calipari's living room to watch a recording of the selection show - well after everyone knew where Kentucky was seeded.

The lack of suspense and the lingering sting of Sunday's loss meant that the only reaction from the Cats as they watched the segment announcing them as the No. 1 overall seed was no reaction. Here's video of that.

A video or other embedded content has been hidden. Click here to view it.

Darius Miller discussing the Cats' draw.

A video or other embedded content has been hidden. Click here to view it.

Anthony Davis discusses the draw and getting to play "a home game" in Louisville.

A video or other embedded content has been hidden. Click here to view it.

Marquis Teague discusses Sunday's loss and the possibility of getting a rematch with Indiana.

A video or other embedded content has been hidden. Click here to view it.


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