Ever since they began their amazing NCAA run three weeks ago, the Utah basketball team has been meeting the press on a regular basis. And not just after the games.
San Francisco promised to press the Utes, who breezed through it en route to an 85-68 victory. Arkansas and West Virginia both gave the Utes a few problems on the press, but again the Utes survived. Arizona and North Carolina weren't pressing teams and only tried it when they got behind and were desperate. It didn't have much effect and they both lost.So what will Kentucky do in tonight's NCAA title game against Utah? Will the Wildcats press the Utes, or will they sit back in a halfcourt defense most of the night?
When pressed for answers, the Wildcats wouldn't say, but the guess is they might use a little more press than they've been using lately.
One reason is they've got to find a way to slow down Utah's Andre Miller, who is the key to the team's success. As Miller goes, so go the Utes. Although he's in great shape, Miller can get tired going full-bore the whole game, and the Wildcats' strategy may be to wear him out with a variety of full-court presses.
Although nearly every opponent in the NCAA tournament has pressed the Utes, with the Arkansas and West Virgina presses giving them the most problems, they don't seem too worried about facing a press tonight.
"In relation to the press offense - one thing we've done is become more aggressive," said Majerus.
"I wanted us to make errors of commission rather than omission. We've become more aggressive and we've erred on the aggressive side. We've always preferred not to be tentative, and that mindset has helped the players and given them a better comfort zone."
What the Utes have done is push the ball upcourt with quick passes, and it has resulted in several three-on-two and two-on-one situations and easy baskets. Against San Francisco, they shot 62.5 percent from the field, against Arkansas it was 55.6 and against Arizona they shot 52.7.
"It's my job to get the ball out of my hands as quick as possible," said Miller. "If they come at me with a trap and I get rid of the ball, we'll have an advantage up the court."
Sometimes, though, Utah' best bet is for Miller to just keep the ball and dribble through the press up the court.
"Everyone tries to keep the ball out of (Miller's) hands," said Drew Hansen. "I'm sure that will be Kentucky's focus, and if they are able to do that we will have a tough time. Not many teams have been able to successfully do that, though."
According to writer Mark Tipton, who has covered Kentucky all season for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Wildcats don't press near as much as they did under Rick Pitino, when they would go at it for 40 minutes nonstop.
"Now they press selectively, especially if they're behind."
Two years ago, when the Wildcats beat the Utes 101-70, they pressed all the time, but actually the Utes handled that press pretty well. What beat them that night was some hot shooting by the Wildcats early on.
Who knows what will happen tonight? But the national title could be decided by how well the Wildcats can press the Utes and how well the Utes respond.