Just over 20 years ago, Scotty Thurman and the Arkansas Razorbacks ripped through the SEC – not to mention the NCAA Tournament – and won a national title, beating Duke in the final.
That same storyline could unfold this weekend for No. 1 Kentucky (38-0), which enters the Final Four just two games away from a historic 40-0 season. The Wildcats play Wisconsin (35-3) in the Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium this Saturday at 8:49 p.m. ET.
If victorious, they face the winner of Duke versus Michigan State in the final Monday night.
“Well, it’s very impressive that they’ve dodged a couple scares and been able to maintain an undefeated record,” Thurman said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I think it’s a tribute to the style of play that they play. They don’t really sore a lot of points, but they do a great job of defending and playing together. We think about a team that’s undefeated at this point in the season and to only have two guys averaging double figures? But four guys are averaging five or more rebounds a game. And with the length that they have, I think that’s what makes it so tough to score on them because you cannot get by them and get easy baskets at the rim. I just think that’s what makes them very, very tough.”
Indeed, Kentucky is extremely balanced – and long – on both sides of the ball. Six Wildcats – Aaron Harrison, Devin Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Harrison, Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles – are averaging between 8.7 and 11.0 points per game. Kentucky was also one of the best teams in the country this season in scoring defense, defensive field-goal percentage and blocks.
So, how do you go about beating this team?
“Well, I think you got to mix it up,” Thurman said. “I don’t think they’re a team you can press for long periods of time, but I think they’re a ball club that you can force to take some jump shots. And if they’re knocking down those jump shots, then obviously you got to make an adjustment.”
Notre Dame, scrappy yet undersized, elected not to double-team Towns in the Elite Eight. Towns responded with a game-high 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting, including a perfect 8-of-8 in the second half. Only one other Wildcat, Booker, reached double figures.
It’ll be interesting to see if Wisconsin – which has the size to match Kentucky – elects to double-team in the post or play straight up. Then again, the Badgers might do both.
“I think (Kentucky is) a team that you’ve got to play multiple zones as well as different types of situations in man-to-man,” Thurman said, “where you (do) not necessarily have to double Willie Cauley-Stein but allow him to play one on one – as opposed to allowing him to score easy baskets at the rim off lobs and put-backs, as well as being able to be a facilitator offensively and kicking the basketball out to the Harrison twins, (Tyler) Ulis or Booker.”
Wisconsin has won 20 of its last 21 games.