BOZICH | Kentucky Gets Its Crack At An Undefeated Season - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Kentucky Gets Its Crack At An Undefeated Season

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Andrew Harrison's right elbow was wrapped in ice after Kentucky beat Kansas State Friday night. Andrew Harrison's right elbow was wrapped in ice after Kentucky beat Kansas State Friday night.

ST. LOUIS (WDRB) – This is what the University of Kentucky basketball team wanted – a crack at an unbeaten season.

Of course, it was supposed to be their unbeaten season, not the 40-0 season that unbeaten Wichita State is chasing. But that doesn't matter any more. It's the NCAA Tournament. This unbeaten season will work for The Storyline of the first weekend of the tournament.

The Wildcats get Wichita State Sunday at 2:45 p.m. (EDT) in the third round of the Midwest Regional at the Scottrade Center. Am I the only one who thinks this feels more like an Elite Eight game?

"It'll be a great matchup," said UK point guard Andrew Harrison, as he massaged a large ice pack on his bruised right elbow. "They're a great team. Like I said, it will be fun. That's what you play basketball for, for games like this."

This game against the second-ranked team in the nation, and the No. 1 seed in the region, is Kentucky's reward for punishing Kansas State, 56-49, Friday night.

It is also their chance to flush the memories of the second-place finish in the Southeastern Conference. The chance to silence the talk about the South Carolina, Arkansas and Louisiana State games.

The chance to demonstrate they're the team coach John Calipari suggested they were going to be last November, when they were ranked first, 15 spots ahead of Wichita State, in the pre-season polls.

Ken Pomeroy's computer numbers favor Wichita State by four. Jeff Sagarin's numbers call the game even. Nate Silver's 538 blog at ESPN put UK's chances of winning the game at 42 percent.

Las Vegas posted the line Saturday morning -- Wichita State is a 3 1/2-point favorite.

But if you listen to Kansas State point guard Marcus Foster and KSU coach Bruce Weber, you'll think that the Wildcats, not Wichita State, deserve to be favored.

"Athletically, I thought (UK) compared with Kansas," Foster said. "But they were much better. (Positions) one through five they are very athletic and much more physical than we thought."

Not your usual eight-seed and 10-loss team?

"Noooooo," said Weber.

I probably should add a few more oooooos to his answer. It was the longest Noooo of the tournament. It was an extremely emphatic No.

"They locked us up and D'd us up," Weber said. "You've got to give them credit. If Wichita can make some shots, I think that would help.  (Kentucky's) big guys are mobile and athletic. If they guard like that, I think Kentucky proved they can play in a hard-fought, tough game."

They certainly did against Kansas State. Julius Randle was locked into beast mode, carrying the Wildcats with 19 points and 15 rebounds. Aaron Harrison was also more than solid, scoring 18.

Although Kentucky shot only 38 percent, the Wildcats controlled this game because they outrebounded KSU by a dozen. And Kansas State scored a season-low 49 points because it only made 35.8 percent of its shots.

The only warning signs were that Kentucky had 15 turnovers and eight assists. And that Andrew Harrison injured that elbow on his shooting arm late in the second half while slapping down to block a shot.

Harrison said X-rays were negative. He also said his arm was sore. Very sore.

"I'll get another arm or something," Harrison said. "I'll be all right."

Over the next two days, there will be two contests between the teams. On Saturday they will debate which one has received less respect and deserves to be the underdog in the game. Then on Sunday, they'll actually play the game for the opportunity to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in Indianapolis – and perhaps a game against Louisville.

"We still feel like we're the underdogs," Wichita State guard Tekele Cotton said. "We'll be the underdogs because people say we haven't played an elite team yet."

Evidently Cotton has not been paying attention to what the skeptics have been saying about Kentucky because elite team has been flushed from the vocabulary about Calipari's team for several weeks. Remember: the Wildcats were unranked in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll.

"I don't know what the media has been saying, but we feel like we should be the underdog," said UK guard James Young.

This is a perfect moment for Calipari. How many times has he been an underdog in an NCAA Tournament game since he's been at Kentucky?

Maybe once -- Ohio State in the 2011 East Regional. Or twice -- North Carolina in the same regional.

Wichita State has been flawless. Wichita State has the guts of a team that nearly knocked Louisville out in the Final Four last season. Wichita State gets rave reviews from the basketball insiders. They're legit. Undersized, but legit.

But Wichita State has not played an opponent that made the NCAA Tournament since Dec. 22. That was North Carolina Central. The only other NCAA teams that the Shockers have beaten are Tennessee (by nine), Saint Louis (by five) and Brigham Young (by 13).

Two UK players -- Alex Poythress and James Young -- said they had not watched Wichita State play all season. Andrew Harrison said he had only watched one half of one of the Shockers' games.

"They play really hard," Calipari said. "They have really good players. You don't go 35 or 36-0 or whatever they are without having really good players. And they have really good players. And they play hard and compete."

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