We're getting closer, Bears! Too bad St. Mary's is no longer with us, but we have 2 Regional Finals today, the East and the West, followed at 6pm by Cal hosting BYU in the WNIT West Regional Final.
At 1:30 PM PDT, we have Butler v. Kansas State:
Everybody gets it. It’s no longer fair or accurate to pat Butler on the head and portray the Bulldogs as that scrappy, plucky, mid-major underdog with more heart than hops and a dream that won’t die.
Yet for as far as they’ve come—not only this season but over the last several—it’s hard for this story not to feel a little warm ‘n fuzzy: The team that practices in the gym where they shot "Hoosiers" is one win from playing in the Final Four. In downtown Indianapolis, no less, only a few short miles from home.
Coming off a win over Syracuse, the fifth-seeded Bulldogs (31-4) put their 23-game winning streak on the line against No. 2 Kansas State on Saturday in the West Regional final. Winner moves on. Loser goes home. For Butler, of course, the destination will be the same either way.
"When we sat down and made goals and thought about the season, we said, `Why not shoot for the ultimate goal?"’ forward Matt Howard said.
Indeed, why not?
Though this is their first trip this far in the NCAA tournament, the Bulldogs have been on the national stage for more than a decade now.
They are quick, can shoot and play good defense, as they proved in their 63-59 win over top-seeded Syracuse. The prevailing wisdom before that game was that the team that shoots 34 percent from 3-point range would have to be even better—in every way—to stay on the court with the Big East regular-season champions.
Fact is, the Bulldogs weren’t all that wonderful, and didn’t have to be.
And at 4 PM, you have Kentucky v. West Virginia. The majority of people in the CGB Pick 'Em who didn't pick Kansas picked Kentucky. So, if Kentucky loses here, it's gonna be a wild finish:
John Calipari keeps the "for sale" signs angry Memphis fans once staked in his yard in his garage. He has them as reminders that, even when times are good, there were plenty of years when fans wanted him gone.
Calipari bristled when it was suggested he was the master of the quick fix, a coach able to turn around programs with a few prized recruits, some slick strategy, and then kick back and enjoy Final Four runs.
He rattled off his resume: Calipari needed four years at UMass to make the NCAA tournament; three at Memphis and then three more to get out of the second round; and his NBA career lasted all of two-plus seasons with the New Jersey Nets.
He’s always needed time to win games and win over fickle fans.
Just not this year. Not at Kentucky.
Calipari has built Kentucky into a championship program again, not a mere solid one that lagged in prestige and Final Four counts in the final years of the Tubby Smith era and then under Billy Gillispie. Calipari has the Wildcats (35-2) within one win of their first Final Four since winning the national championship in 1998.
Win an eighth national title in Indianapolis and Kentucky will be KENTUCKY again.
"We know that we’re part of history," forward Patrick Patterson said. "We’re part of a team that’s getting Kentucky back to the true place that the Kentucky program was in the past and should be from now on."
Then, at 6PM, we have Cal's WNIT quarterfinal matchup with BYU. Winner goes to the WNIT Final Four!
Time: 6:00 PM PST
Radio: Calbears.com radio
Stream: Calbears.com stream
BYU finished the regular season in 2nd in the Mountain West before losing to surprise sweet 16 survivor San Diego St. (how about that alliteration!) in the semifinals of the MWC tournament. The Cougars don’t have any particularly impressive wins, but besides the above mentioned blowout loss to SDSU they were a generally consistent team all year.
Cal fans who have watched the entire NIT run may be distressed to learn that BYU is willing to shoot threes almost as often as UC Davis, and with greater accuracy. Jazmine Foreman and Haley Hall are two diminutive guards who will pull the trigger at any time, and Coriann Wood is a 6’1’’ forward who may create some matchup difficulties because she’s the most accurate 3 point shooter (44.7%, 11th in the country) Cal has faced all year long. Guard Mindy Bonham doesn’t shoot from behind the arc as often, but she makes up the rest of BYU’s core of four juniors who average between 11.2 and 8.9 points per game.
Despite all of that shooting, BYU is at their best when they play good defense. Unsurprising because of their lack of size, BYU cannot dominate a game on the glass the way Cal can. So to win they need to shoot reasonably well and hold their opponent on defense. BYU is at their worst when they can’t hit their threes or turn the ball over too much, or both. They managed to lose an early game against Washington almost entirely because of 31 turnovers, and in a number of other bad losses (Weber St., Wyoming, New Mexico twice) the Cougars shot 25% or worse from behind the arc.
Like every game against teams that aren’t ASU, UCLA and Stanford, Cal should dominate the glass. This game will almost certainly come down to defense. Cal has the guards with the speed, height, and defensive ability to really frustrate BYU’s shooters. The goal will be to force enough misses and turnovers to rebound BYU into submission. But the Cougars are a smart, veteran team that has generally been playing well over their last 6 games (wins over Utah, Arizona St., and NCAA tournament team TCU). They move the ball well and they play solid defense. This is probably the best team Cal has played thus far in the NIT, and a win won’t be easy.