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Kentucky could get a 'run' for its money

Kentucky faces its first real challenge in Ishmael Smith and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

NEW ORLEANS –- Getting into an up-and-down, shoot-'em-up game with Kentucky is like chumming off the coast of South Africa … and doing it while sitting in one of those blowup floats.

In other words, you just don’t do it.

Try telling that to Wake Forest, which not only wants to run with Kentucky, but wants to run the No. 1-seeded Wildcats ragged Saturday in their East Regional second-round game.

“We’re not going to change it up for nobody,” Wake Forest sophomore forward Al-Farouq Aminu said. “I remember last year it was the same situation. North Carolina was a running team, and everybody was saying, ‘You don’t want to run with North Carolina.’ But that’s what we do, no matter what.

“The thing we’ve got to do is get back in transition, but I don’t think they’re going to discourage us from running.”

There you have it.

The Wildcats (33-2) face their first real challenge of the NCAA tournament. They streaked past overmatched East Tennessee State 100-71 in the first round and looked spectacular doing so.

The Demon Deacons, meanwhile, won 81-80 in overtime against Texas when Ishmael Smith swished a pull-up jumper with 1.3 seconds to play. They also did a number on the Longhorns on the boards, outrebounding them by a staggering 59-34.

“We just have to do what we do, play the way we play, and come out and compete,” Wake Forest senior guard L.D. Williams said. “We can’t go out there in awe. If we do, we’ll get out butts kicked. We know Kentucky’s a good team, but we know we’re a good team as well.”

There was no lack of confidence in the Wake Forest locker room Friday as the once-forgotten-about Deacons –- suddenly revived thanks to Smith’s late-night heroics on Thursday -- prepared to hit the practice floor at New Orleans Arena.

This is the same team that had lost five of six games entering the tournament. But as Smith points out, it’s also the same team that was 18-5 at one point.

“We were the ones everybody was saying could do some damage,” Smith said. “We’re still that team, and now’s the time to do it.”

Wake Forest is one of the few teams that can match Kentucky’s size. The Deacons’ starting front line goes 7-foot, 6-11 and 6-9, while 6-11 sophomore Tony Woods is one of the first guys off the bench. He had seven offensive rebounds against the Longhorns, and four of those were dunk-backs.

“We match up with them in size, and it’s not like we don’t see a lot of talented players in the ACC,” said the 6-9 Aminu, who had 20 points and 15 rebounds against Texas. “Nobody on our squad is going to be intimidated.”

While it’s obvious that Wake Forest was already tired of hearing about how big, talented and good Kentucky was by Friday afternoon, the Wildcats have their own chip on their shoulder.

They’re tired of hearing about how young they are.

“I want this thing to end on a good note, which is a national championship,” Kentucky freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins said. “Why not end it on a good note? To be honest, I really don’t feel pressure at all. We want it bad but everybody’s expectation is for us to lose because we’re young.”

Cousins also wasn’t buying that there were a whole lot of similarities between the Wildcats and Deacons.

“They don’t remind me of us,” Cousins said. “They’re in the ACC. We’re in the SEC. Our coaches have different names. They’re a big, athletic team. We’ll just see how the game turns out.”

The always loquacious Smith gigged some of the media Friday, wondering aloud if everybody already had the Wildcats moving on in their brackets.

“I know a lot of you guys probably have them winning the national championship in your brackets,” said Smith, who wants to get into broadcasting after his hoops days are over. “If I were you guys, I probably would, too, just watching them play.

“We just want to put ourselves in position.”

It may not be an enviable position, especially when the Wildcats shoot like they did Thursday. Freshman guard Eric Bledsoe tossed in a Kentucky NCAA tournament record eight 3-pointers, and junior forward Patrick Patterson was 9 of 10 from the field.

Told that the Wildcats don’t think there’s a team in the country that can touch them when they’re stroking it from the perimeter, Smith offered a confident smile and then a shrug.

“They’re a heck of a team,” said Smith, his smile widening. “I believe if they say that, they feel that way.

“Let’s just hope that they’re not making jump shots so we can have a chance.”