NEW ORLEANS (AP)—John Calipari had to stop watching film of Wake Forest, if only for the sake of his appetite.
The Kentucky coach counts himself a big fan of New Orleans’ renowned restaurant scene, but if he wanted to be in any shape to dine out on Friday, he needed to take a break from the replays of Demon Deacon rebounders overwhelming Texas on the boards Thursday night.
“They outrebounded Texas by 25. Think about that—25 rebounds. They got 20 offensive rebounds against Texas, who prides itself in that toughness and that rebounding,” Calipari said. “I just watched tape and, you know, you get sick to your stomach.”
Wake Forest, the No. 9 seed in the East Regional, has no delusions about beating top-seeded Kentucky in a high-scoring, finesse-type game when they meet in the second round of the NCAA tournament Saturday night.
The Demon Deacons had to struggle to survive their first-round encounter with Texas. They had to find a way to get hands on teammates’ missed shots for 25 second-chance points. And they needed point guard Ishmael Smith’s pull-up jumper in the final seconds of overtime to win.
“We have our shortcomings as a team,” Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio said. “We don’t shoot the ball real well sometimes. We have to be really, really good on defense. We have to be really good on the backboard for us to be there to win basketball games.”
Kentucky, by contrast, hasn’t been tested yet.
The Wildcats turned their first-round game against East Tennessee State into an exhibition of alley-oops and 3-pointers. Eric Bledsoe was 8 of 9 from long range and his teammates combined for seven more 3s in all. Patrick Patterson had a handful of dunks and even hit a 3 of his own.
The Wildcats led by 30 in the first half against ETSU and by as much as 40 in the second, the lack of drama in their dominance perhaps best illustrated by a video board montage of fans sleeping in the stands.
“Obviously, Kentucky’s a great team. They have everything. They have size, they have quickness, they have shooters, they defend. They do everything well,” Wake Forest guard L.D. Williams said. “We just want to go out there and try to compete and try to make the game a good game, try to have us in a situation to where we can win the game late.”
One of the most compelling matchups could be Kentucky freshman point guard John Wall against the quick and heady Smith, who at 6 feet tall still managed to grab 12 rebounds against the Longhorns.
“The minute he gets a defensive rebound, he’s at half court in two seconds,” Calipari said. “So him rebounding the ball is not good for us. John Wall rebounding the ball for us, which he does well, is good for us. Now, he does the same thing. He’s at half court in two seconds when he rebounds.
“I’m anxious to see what happens and how they go against each other. If they run and we run, they better have a young officials crew on this game, because it will be hard to stay up with it.”
Wall had 17 points and 11 assists against ETSU. He’s averaged about 17 points and 6.4 assists this season and is regarded as the best player in college basketball by some, including Smith.
Smith isn’t all that intimidated, though. He’s spent hours playing against three-time NBA All-Star Chris Paul, a former Wake Forest star who visits often during the summer and joins pickup games. Smith said he has studied how Paul sets up and uses screens to create openings for himself and teammates, and how he sets up steals on the defensive end by baiting players into certain moves.
“Chris is probably one of my favorite point guards in the NBA. Not because he went to Wake. It’s because he’s a special player,” Smith said. “And I guess you can say that playing against Chris every summer really can prepare you for the ACC season and your non-conference season and into times like right now, when you’re playing arguably probably the best point guard in college basketball.”