Kentucky versus Stanford seems to boil down to full-court versus half-court.
Kentucky wants a 94-foot game. The Cats want to use their superior athleticism, especially in the frontcourt, to exploit Stanford's perceived lack of quickness. Stanford wants much of the action to take place in a half-court setting. The Cardinal wants to use their bulk inside to beat up and thus beat the Cats.Which team gets to play its game on Saturday night may determine which team advances to Monday night's NCAA Tournament championship game.
"If we are moving faster than we are normally used to and taking shots out of context that will hurt us," Stanford Coach Mike Montgomery said. "We have to get shots that we are comfortable with, with board coverage, shots that we anticipate and shots that we can make because we are used to taking them.
"Kentucky is very good in the open court, getting into seams, getting to open shooters, on the move. I don't think they're as good if they have to play half-court offense every possession."
The team that controls the boards will control the tempo. Each boasts rebounding prowess. UK ranked second nationally in rebounding margin in the regular season (plus 10.4). Stanford ranked seventh (plus 9.1).
"The big key for us is rebounding, a big huge key," UK forward Scott Padgett said. "If we can rebound, hopefully we can run and have their big men run as much as possible."
Stanford (30-4) balked at the notion that speed kills its chances. It's been well documented that quick teams Arizona and Connecticut inflicted three of the Cardinal's four losses by an average margin of 23.3 points.
"Speed and quickness hurts everybody because that's the name of the game," Montgomery said. " typecast us as not having speed and quickness would be incorrect."
But, Padgett said, UK watched the Stanford losses as part of its preparation. "We want to make them go to their bench and exploit that," he said.
Stanford's power forward, Mark Madsen, objected to the tortoise-and-hare perception of the game. "Kentucky is a very quick team," he said. "I think we are one of the quickest teams in the country as well. At the quickness positions, our guys are as quick as anyone. I We played some bad games against quicker teams, and for that reason we have been hit with this notion that we are a slow team."
But, Madsen conceded, Stanford is concerned about Kentucky's speed. "Our big focus, a big part of our preparation has gone into getting back in transition," he said, "and not allowing them to get cheap buckets on the break."
No one disputed the idea that Stanford is a power team. Led by 7-footer Tim Young, the Cardinal boast eight players 6-foot-7 or taller.
"It's definitely going to be a bruising game," said Padgett, who singled out Young and Madsen as "two huge guys, two monster men."
Most famously, Madsen roughed up Purdue center Brad Miller in the Midwest Region semifinals. Miller needed stitches to close a gash on his chin. "The one thing we're going to have to overcome is just how physical they are," UK reserve Cameron Mills said, "the way they post up and the way they box out."
UK's most physical player, backup center Jamaal Magloire, relished the chance to match an opponent muscle for muscle, sneer for sneer.
"I'm excited," Magloire said. "I think that's my game. I think we can get away with a little more."
Magloire, who has a tattoo reading "Mister Magloire" on his left biceps, looked forward to playing the role of the good cop (or bad cop) patrolling the area around the basket.
"Nobody will take advantage of my teammates," he said. "I am the regulator."