Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

April 7, 2013

AARON SNYDER: They tried to tell us of these Cardinals

ASHLAND — Either the entire country was suffering from denial or we just weren’t listening.

After one of the craziest college basketball seasons in recent memory transpired over the past few months — one in which “No. 1” became a haunting jinx more than a coveted prefix — most of us couch coaches are being colored fooled.

Meanwhile, despite the numerous upsets and the constant talk of impending bracket chaos, the sideline coaches were trying to tell us.

Even as March Madness ensued and Louisville sizzled into the spring with the overall top NCAA Tournament seed, one popular notion was that last year there was an obvious favorite in Kentucky and that this season was entirely different, that it was wide open with no clear champion choice.

Louisville’s tournament road (until Saturday’s close call against Wichita State) speaks otherwise: 79-48 over North Carolina A&T; 82-56 over Colorado State; 77-69 over Oregon; and 85-63 over Duke.

That doesn’t even include the Cardinals’ run of 10 straight wins (nine of them by double figures) heading into the dance.

Our eyes and ears should have been open a long time ago, like in December, for instance.

While most of the attention in the Bluegrass went the way of Kentucky for having competed closely with the Cardinals in an 80-77 affair in Louisville, one of UK coach John Calipari’s most telling comments was essentially swept under the rug.

Calipari told us: “There may be a better team in the country, but I’ve got to see them. When you have guard play like they have and size and toughness, this is an outstanding team.”

Even Providence coach Ed Cooley, after his Friars lost to Louisville just days after the battle of the Bluegrass, told us. “I think our team just played the best team in the country,” he said.

Then, two games later, South Florida coach Stan Heath told us. “That was ... wow! They’re really good. That’s a really good basketball team.”

So, why didn’t we listen? Why didn’t we see it?

Well, just a week later, Louisville lost three games in a row and the Cardinals looked zapped of all the zip they had exhibited previously.

So, we wrote them off. Just chalked them up as another No. 1-and-done. Just assumed they were the latest to fall along the pattern and drown, never to return to the top.

Well, here they are now, one win away from their first national championship since 1986.

But, you know what? They were here all along.

Henderson or Mills?

While Luke Hancock got the CBS postgame interview and he’ll snatch up plenty of headlines for an outstanding Final Four performance, the unsung hero was Tim Henderson.

A junior walk-on, Henderson was 4 of 17 from 3-point range in 25 games this season. On Saturday, with his hometown team down by 12 points, Henderson drilled a pair of triples to close the gap at a critical juncture.

Henderson’s ice-cold approach from downtown had to remind Kentucky fans of Cameron Mills, a walk-on who also played for coach Rick Pitino.

Of course, Mills went on to hit better than 45 percent of his career 3-pointers and was part of two national championship teams with the Wildcats (1996, ’98).

Coach Square Dance

Here’s a fun game of connect the coaching dots ...

What do Kentucky, Louisville, Minnesota and Texas Tech have in common?

Well, it’s not a “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game but it’s close. Here it goes, all in one epic, comma-riddled sentence ...

Texas Tech, formerly coached by Billy Gillispie, who replaced Tubby Smith at Kentucky, is now coached by Smith, who replaced Rick Pitino, currently at Louisville, at Kentucky, where Smith replaced Pitino, who fathered former Louisville assistant Richard Pitino, who now coaches Minnesota.

Shew, take a breath, and read it again!

That’s four coaches, four schools, nine commas and 43 words.

And you thought long division was tough.

AARON SNYDER can be reached at

asnyder@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2664.

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