NEW ORLEANS -- When John Calipari entered the Kentucky locker room Saturday night in the prelude to what would be a second consecutive Big Blue stampede in the NCAA tournament, he found his players gathered around the television.
“We were trying to steal a peek at the Kansas game,” freshman guard John Wall admitted.
They got to see about a minute of the game before Calipari made sure the television was off. All they knew was that Kansas was losing. They said they didn’t find out that the Jayhawks had lost until after their 90-60 demolition of Wake Forest at New Orleans Arena.
“Oh … I wonder which team is going to be favored now,” said freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins, trying his best to sport a quizzical look.
Surely, it will be the Wildcats, who’ve won their first two games be a combined 59 points while shooting better than 50 percent from the field in both games and handing out a combined 48 assists.
“Probably,” he said.
Is that all right with you, DeMarcus?
“I don’t care. I liked it when they hated us,” he said. “We’re going to go play, but I love being the bad guy.”
If these guys are feeling the pressure of their first voyage through the NCAA tournament, they’re not showing it.
If anything, they seem to be soaking it up.
The television was on full blast in the Kentucky locker room after the game, and there was very little chatter about the Kansas upset.
The place went wild when Eric Bledsoe’s tomahawk dunk in the second half flashed up on the screen. Even Calipari came rushing over to see if they had shown it yet.
“Here it goes, here it goes,” said Wall, leaning back in his chair in anticipation. “Yes sir!”
Sophomore guard Darius Miller, who led the Wildcats with a career-high 20 points, marveled that it was one of the best dunks he’d ever seen.
“It has to be No. 1 on the Top 10 plays,” he said.
A few minutes later, ESPN college basketball analyst Digger Phelps popped up on the screen.
Every one of the players swarmed to the television then.
“What’s he going to say about us now?” somebody yelled.
Nobody could really hear what Phelps did say, but what goes unsaid is that this is a ridiculously talented basketball team playing at the top of its game when it matters most.
And even though they don’t talk much about it publicly, there’s a real sense of urgency among the freshmen that this will be their one and only chance to win a national championship.
The NBA beckons.
“We all look at it like that,” Wall said. “Me, Patrick (Patterson) and coach (Calipari) at the beginning of the season said, ‘This might be the only year that all of us play together, our only chance to do something special. Let’s make it happen.’ ”
The only pothole Saturday night came when Wake Forest senior center Chas McFarland – who has a rep for playing not so nice – cross-checked Cousins to the floor with just under 10 minutes to play and Kentucky leading by 30 points.
McFarland was hit with an intentional foul, and Kentucky’s Daniel Orton was hit with contact technical foul for coming to Cousins’ aid.
“That wasn’t even basketball,” said Cousins, who was 9-of-10 from the field for 19 points and eight rebounds. “He was doing a lot of cheap things. I caught an elbow to the jaw from him earlier in the game. He’s a dirty player. The whole world knows it, especially after tonight.”
Something else the whole basketball world knows is that these Wildcats are going to be hard to beat if they keep shooting this well. It’s a given they’re going to play defense and rebound.
But if they make their 3-pointers and keep spreading the wealth on offense with guys like Miller pumping in 20 points, look out.
“It’s going to be impossible to do anything about it,” Cousins said.
Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio wouldn’t necessarily disagree.
“I’ve been in the ACC 10 years,” Gaudio said. “That’s as good a basketball team as we’ve played against in the 10 years I’ve been here.”
For the record, that includes four national championship teams – Duke in 2001, Maryland in 2002 and North Carolina in 2005 and 2009.