By JEFFREY McMURRAY Associated Press Writer March 13, 2010
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Huddled with his teammates around the television in coach John Calipari’s living room, Kentucky freshman DeMarcus Cousins demonstratively expressed his disapproval over the tough road the SEC champions face to reach the Final Four.
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“What?” said Cousins, throwing his arms in the air as some of Kentucky’s potential opponents in the NCAA tournament’s East Regional were announced Sunday.
The Wildcats (32-2) got the No. 1 seed on the strength of their Southeastern Conference regular season and tournament championships, but opposite them as the No. 2 seed in their region is West Virginia. The Mountaineers won the Big East tournament championship, arguably the nation’s most loaded league.
After Ohio State was announced as the No. 2 seed in the Midwest, opposite top-seeded Kansas, Calipari told his players: “We wanted Ohio State.”
Other than West Virginia in the same bracket, setting up a potential regional final in Syracuse, N.Y., Calipari also expressed surprise in some potential earlier matchups. Assuming Kentucky gets past 16th-seeded East Tennessee State on Thursday, the Wildcats draw a tough second-round game against Wake Forest or Texas, which was at one time ranked No. 1.
“Our little corner of the world is hard,” Calipari observed.
Kentucky’s players didn’t arrive for the beginning of the show Sunday night, when they were officially named as a No. 1 seed along with Kansas, Duke and Syracuse. The SEC championship game against Mississippi State went into overtime, and the flight back from Nashville was late.
Conference player of the year John Wall, a freshman considered a likely top overall pick in the NBA draft, hit a late 3-pointer in that game. He acknowledged it was a surprise to see the tourney path, including a potential second-round matchup with the Longhorns.
“It was kind of shocking to see them that close up in our bracket, but we’re not going to complain about it,” Wall said. “We can’t look that far down the road. We’ve got to worry about that first game.”
The Wildcats’ other freshman star in the backcourt, Eric Bledsoe, said the road would be difficult not just because of opponents but also due to the schedule. Kentucky played three grueling days in the SEC tournament and now plays again on Thursday.
“We’ve just got to try to get our bodies in shape, get proper rest and eat right,” Bledsoe said. “Everybody’s body gets bruised. We’ve been playing hard the last few days. We’re just going to try to keep it going.”
Although there were some quibbles with the draw, the team’s veteran — junior Patrick Patterson — said this edition of the Wildcats far exceeded his expectations.
Patterson will be playing in his first NCAA tournament game because he was injured two years ago as a freshman and Kentucky went to the NIT last year under Billy Gillispie.
“I thought we’d have a successful team, but I thought we’d probably have a couple bumps in the road,” Patterson said. “Earlier in this season, I never would have imagined us at this point we are now.”