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Mike Lopresti | | April 4, 2014

Lopresti: News and notes from the Final Four

  UConn's Kevin Ollie and Florida's Billy Donovan will square off on Saturday for a trip to the title game.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Notes and quotes from the Final Four:

So what could happen this weekend? Among other things:

• A Connecticut title would make Kevin Ollie a national champion in his first NCAA tournament as head coach. It took John Wooden six tournaments to get a trophy, Mike Krzyzewski eight and Dean Smith 12. Ollie would be the first to do it his first year in 25 years, since Michigan’s Steve Fisher.

• A Florida title would give the Gators three national championships -- as many as they own in football.

• A Kentucky title would make the No. 8 Wildcats one of the two lowest seeds to become national champions. They would join 1985 Villanova. Not the record you would expect Kentucky to be matching.

• A Wisconsin title would make Bo Ryan the first man ever to coach national championships in two different divisions. He won four Division III titles at Wisconsin-Platteville.

• Can it be this is Billy Donovan’s 18h season as head coach at Florida? Yes. And he is an alum of a training program whose value has stayed with him to this day.

The University of Rick Pitino.

Donovan not only played for Pitino at Providence -- and led a team to the 1987 Final Four -- but was an assistant for him at Kentucky. That’s when the real instruction took place.

“We were exposed to a lot,” Donovan said Thursday. “We were forced to coach, we were forced to teach, we were forced to break down film and give individual instruction. We were forced to make decisions, preparations, all sorts of things. I didn’t feel like, when I became a head coach, that there was any aspect of coaching that [hadn’t been] forced or thrust upon me that I had to deal with, and I’m always thankful for that.”

• Kevin Ollie’s charge to his Connecticut team this week: “We’re going to have to play at a level five.”

Level five?

“It’s just a championship mentality. It’s playing together, playing unselfish, playing as five and not just one. Because sometimes you get to this stage and you want to play as one, and you want to go off and be an individual. But that’s not going to work.”

Some numbers of note:

• Wisconsin gave up 19 fast-break points to Oregon in the first half of its third-round game, and has not allowed one fast break point in the 100 minutes since.

• Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin did not commit one turnover in 73 regional minutes against UCLA and Dayton.

• Connecticut has three national championships in four Final Fours. Michigan State, in 2009, is the only team to ever beat the Huskies in the Final Four.

• Kentucky took out both teams from last year’s national championship game -- Louisville and Michigan. Nobody had ever done that before.

• Frank Kaminsky is Wisconsin’s leading scorer tournament at 18.5 points a game. This time last year, he was averaging 4.2. 

• Bo Ryan had just finished his second season at Milwaukee in 2001 when Pat Richter, the athletic director at Wisconsin, called with a job offer.

“It was the shortest conversation of all time,” Ryan said Thursday, as he recreated the call.


“Yeah, who is this?”

“This is Pat.”

“Yeah, Pat.”

“Are you ready?”

“You know I’m ready.”

And that was it.

“We drove to Madison the next day, got some things, and got a chance to coach at the University of Wisconsin,” Ryan said.

What they were saying Thursday:

“One of the players actually made a comment as we were driving in, 'So this is the road to the Final Four.’ So I think our guys are loose enough.” -- Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan.

“We got here through an absolute mine field and happened to not step on a mine.” -- Kentucky head coach John Calipari on the Wildcats’ tournament road through Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan -- all of them ranked in the top seven and a combined 94-13 when they met Kentucky.

“First of all, does a player have to be here four years to be terrific college player? The last four years, our grade point average has been a 3.0. Our APR [academic progress rate] is as high as anybody in the country. They’re college students. They’re just not college students for four years, in most cases, but not all.” -- Calipari, about the one-and-done image of the Wildcats.

“I’m the same person I was three weeks ago. So for me, it’s not like maybe what you think it is to me, because of how I got into the profession first as a teacher, first in junior-high school, and then they gave me a coaching job.” -- Ryan on making his first Final Four.

“We coaches do not look at this the way you all look at this ... I don’t think we evaluate any coach based on Final Fours, or who made it, or national titles. We just know who can coach, who is a good guy, who gets their teams better, who cares about kids. We know those guys. If they made it to the Final Four, great. If they didn’t, that didn’t change my opinion of them.” – Calipari, on the need for a coach to get to the Final Four to complete his legacy.

"It’s a somber time. Obviously, we would love to be here.” -- Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, accepting The Associated Press coach of the year award, on the mood back on campus after the third-round loss to Kentucky.

“I think when you play in those situations, you learn about yourself.” -- Florida head coach Billy Donovan on his willingness to play early season games at Wisconsin and Connecticut. The Gators lost to both teams for their only defeats.

“That’s kind of a maybe a societal issue, where we start to deem what success is for a lot of these kids. And if they don’t make it to the NBA, then their college career means nothing, is nothing. I feel bad that a lot of kids walk off a college campus if they have been there for four years and view themselves as being anything less than successful. Seriously, it bothers me when I hear stories like that.’’ – Donovan on a published story that found several players who had good NCAA tournaments and later played pro ball in Europe considered themselves failures for not playing in the NBA.

“[Wednesday], she got cleared to fly, and that was great news. ... She lives in Plano here and to come back home before her next surgery has just been a wonderful thing. It’s going to be great to see her. She wanted to come down to Madison Square Garden, but I was like, no, save your energy for the Final Four.” -- Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie on his mother, Dorothy, who is fighting breast cancer. She has been living with her son while undergoing treatment.

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