While serving an LDS Mission in Japan I learned many Japanese “Kotowaza” (“proverbs” or “idioms” as we know them). One favorite reads, “All roads lead to the top of Mount Fuji.”
The Japanese people use this Kotowaza to explain that no matter what faith one may have, one will eventually end up with God (or at the top of Mount Fuji, the highest and most sacred volcanic mountain in Japan, where Deity lives).
NCAA basketball has Kotowaza as well. In the case of the Runnin’ UTES, the Kotowaza reads, “All roads to the Final Four go through Kentucky.”
I don’t know about you, but I am sick of Kentucky. In fact, I could say I loathe Kentucky. When I filled out my bracket this year, I could not believe my eyes when my selection of Utah and Kentucky again came together in the Sweet Sixteen. Oh great, it’s the Wildcats from Kentucky, again!
NCAA history speaks for itself. The pairing on March 25th will be the eleventh meeting of these two squads, with Kentucky holding an 8 to 2 series edge. This is also the sixth meeting in the NCAA Tournament and the Wildcats have won every one of the previous five. In fact, Kentucky has beaten the UTES six consecutive times, including one for the National Championship in 1998. The title game was a slugfest. Scott Padgett scored 17 points and Jeff Sheppard had 16 as Kentucky outlasted Utah, 78-69. Utah led 41-31 at halftime thanks to a large 24-6 rebounding advantage. Then, the Wildcats battled back and took a 65-64 lead when Sheppard canned a baseline jumper with 4:54 to play. The UTES would then miss 11 consecutive shots as Kentucky won its second NCAA Title in three years.
The last UTE loss to the Wildcats was on Sunday, March 23, 2003. Kentucky sent Utah home during the 2nd Round of the Midwest Regional, beating them 74 to 54. Andrew Bogut, Utah’s seven-foot Superstar, was still in Australia. Point Guard Marc Jackson scored 19 in the loss to the Wildcats then, while teammates Tim Drisdom, Bryant Markson, Richard Chaney and Chris Jackson were only freshmen.
This time around, I predict it will be different.
This time, the best player on the floor belongs to Utah. Bogut, one of four finalists for the prestigious Naismith Trophy for Best Player of the Year, can be anything he wants to be. Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., Bogut tied his season low with 10 points but still managed to lead Utah over Oklahoma and a coveted spot in the Sweet Sixteen.
The Sooners tried to push Bogut around at the low post, so he switched to the high post and acted like a seven-foot point guard, dishing off passes to frenzied teammates darting for easy baskets. He had seven assists and grabbed 11 rebounds as well.
But don’t be fooled! Bogut can be physical with the best of them and could be the most dominating inside presence in the NCAA tournament.
Kentucky is a defensive powerhouse and the Wildcats will rely heavily on that fact to get them to the Elite Eight. However, Kentucky is vulnerable this year.
Even with their pair of seven footers they don’t have the big names like yesteryear … yet! And this may well be the weakest offensive team in Kentucky’s distinguished basketball history.