CLEVELAND – Kentucky coach John Calipari was talking about Bob Huggins here Wednesday and how all of Hug’s basketball teams share the same essential qualities.
“His teams play, they compete, they play to win,” said Calipari, whose unbeaten Wildcats face his buddy’s West Virginia squad in tonight’s Midwest Region semifinal at Quicken Loans Arena. “They don’t have any fear.”
The Mountaineers certainly aren’t afraid of talking trash the day before their biggest game of the season.
“I give them their props,” freshman guard Daxter Miles Jr. said. “Salute them to getting to 36-0. But tomorrow, they’re gonna be 36-1. They should be more intimidated, because they’re the ones who have the high standard, and we’re coming for them.”
Miles suggested it was Kentucky that should be afraid. He said the Wildcats don’t play hard. That’s pretty audacious, considering that Kentucky is the first team in NCAA history to start a season 36-0 and has held its opponents to a staggering 35.1 percent shooting.
It’s fashionable to take shots at the Wildcats, who have been the favorite to win the national title since before the season and are four wins from completing a 40-0 season and becoming the first Division I team to go unbeaten since Indiana in 1975-76.
Kentucky’s star 6-11 freshman, Karl-Anthony Towns, didn’t seem especially bothered by Miles’ mouthing off.
“We don’t worry about that,” said Towns, the Wildcats’ leading scorer in the NCAA tourney. “You know how, it’s the people who are the best who usually say the least. That’s how we look at it. Everyone has an opinion. We’re always criticized for everything, so it’s OK.”
Someone asked Towns if people underestimated Kentucky’s mental toughness.
“As a team? I thought at 36-0 you wouldn’t,” Towns said.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey will lead his team in tonight’s first semifinal against Wichita State, five days after his mother, Betty Mullen Brey, died of a heart attack at 83.
Brey kept the news from his team until after its overtime win against Butler later Saturday. He spoke fondly of his late mom, a former Olympic swimmer and college swim coach, Wednesday afternoon. Brey was asked what he had learned from his mother about perseverance.
“She was the cruelest of competitors,” Brey said with a smile. “Even swimming Masters in her sixties, if she won three golds and a silver she would talk about why she didn’t win the fourth gold.
“To be around that intensity wasn’t always the healthiest thing,” he added. “I’ll probably need therapy later in life because of it. But I’ll tell you one thing – she made me think about competing every day. To be around an accomplished woman like that, she always made me feel like I could be special, because she was.
“There were times I didn’t want to take her phone call,” Brey said, “because I knew she wanted to talk about the game and the next game. ‘What’s wrong with Zach” Auguste? “We got to get Zach going. I’m like, ‘I can’t take it tonight.’ ”
Brey said he flew to Orlando, where his parents and siblings live, early Sunday. He spent the day with his brother, sister and father, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. He said the family reminisced about his mom while watching the NCAA tourney on Sunday.
“It was great to be with them,” Brey said, “telling stories about my mom, celebrating her life. We sat there and scouted Kansas-Wichita State. I turned to my brother and said, ‘You got Kansas.’ My sister said to my dad, ‘You got Wichita State, give me the notes.’
“During the Maryland game, my Dad and I smoked a cigar out at my brother’s pool. So I had that, kicked back a little bit. I was thoroughly exhausted by the time I got back on the plane.”
A year ago, Wichita State was unbeaten when it faced Kentucky in the Round of 32 of the Midwest Region. The Wildcats, who were a No. 8 in the Midwest, won by two, ending the Shockers’ dream of a perfect season.
The roles could be reversed if both teams win their regional semifinals tonight. Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall was asked if there were any similarities between the two teams.
“The similarities between us and Kentucky?” Marshall said. “They wear shorts and tank tops and sneakers, and we do the same. I don’t know what type hair gel Cal’ uses, but he uses something, a little bit of product. I use a little product. His suits are probably a little more expensive. I don’t know if there’s many other similarities.”
Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame’s senior captain, is a pitcher for the Fighting Irish. Connaughton, whose fastball has been clocked at 96 mph, was drafted by the Orioles in the fourth round last year and made his pro baseball debut with Aberdeen of the New York-Penn League last summer.
Connaughton returned to South Bend in July. Scouts said he would have been drafted higher if MLB teams hadn’t known he was going back to college.