Q&A: ESPN’s Jay Bilas on Cats and Cards

first_imgYou’ve seen some of Jay Bilas’ conversation with The Courier-Journal about Saturday’s showdown between No. 1 Kentucky and No. 4 Louisville – and if not, read today’s story about whether the rival Cardinals are the best hope left for anyone to beat the Wildcats in the regular season. But Bilas, former Duke player and assistant coach and current ESPN college basketball analyst and king of swagger, talked about so much more. So here’s all of it.Bilas addresses the mounting pressure on a team chasing perfection, who might beat UK in SEC play if U of L cannot, where the Cards might have an edge in this game and Montrezl Harrell and Willie Cauley-Stein’s place in the National Player of the Year race. This should get you ready for Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center: JAY BILAS On the UK-UL matchup: “Well, it’s got all the makings of a great one just because both teams are undefeated and top-five good. And Kentucky has got this march to history that they’re on, and Louisville to a lot of observers is the one team that is standing in its way to get to the tournament undefeated. I still think there are a lot of games that can trip up that sort of march in SEC play, but I think Louisville is the best of the opponents in the regular season that Kentucky is going to face. And it’s the first true road game for a team that’s young in spots and that matters. So it’s got all the makings of a great one.” On that idea that U of L is the last, best shot at beating Kentucky in the regular season: “Best chance. When you start thinking about 30-some games during the regular season, or through the SEC Tournament where they’re playing the same teams they played during the regular season, somebody can trip them up. It’s always the one you least expect, where maybe a team like Kentucky doesn’t take the opponent seriously and they wind up getting beat. That happens, especially on the road. But when Kentucky has been engaged, when you expect them to play well and it’s a quote-unquote ‘big game,’ nobody’s touched them. And I haven’t seen one minute – not one – to this point in the season where I’ve had the feeling that the opponent was going to win. Not one second.”Pick the winner between Louisville and Kentucky basketball On the last time he remembers feeling that way about a team: “UNLV in the ’90s. But they didn’t have a conference that could challenge them like the SEC. Nobody in recent memory. You start thinking about, ‘Who does this team compare to?’ We’re talking about them in historical terms. Like, even on a relative basis, it’s been a long time since you could say, ‘Well, who’s been this dominant?’ Especially defensively. I don’t think this team is a great offensive team. But, boy, their defense is – there’s no other word than great. To this point, it’s been historically great. Their size is so affecting. And it’s not just inside. It’s all over the court. They’ve got 6-6 guys at the guard position. They’ve got 6-9 guys that they slot at the three (6-10 for Lyles). And their big guys are beyond big. They’re massive. If the five of them get together and sort of spread their arms out, I’m sure they go beyond half court. It’s incredible.” On what a picture that would be: “Yeah, we’ve (ESPN) actually thought about that. But, yeah, it’s amazing how long and how big they are and how that affects opponents on the defensive end.”Video | Calipari says “We’re Good, But We Couldn’t Beat the Nets” On how, then, Louisville might beat this team: “Because Louisville can put pressure on and make the game a little bit chaotic and force turnovers. And Louisville’s really good defensively themselves. Then it becomes a game of who can score easy baskets, who can get out in transition, who can get offensive rebounds, who can force more turnovers, things like that. Like, I don’t think Louisville’s a great offensive team either – they don’t shoot it particularly well. I think actually Kentucky shoots it a little bit better. Devin Booker’s been making shots and Aaron Harrison is starting to make shots again, and Tyler Ulis is a good shooter. You go under a ball screen and he’ll hit one. And Andrew Harrison actually has been making some shots. But they have a number of guys that can make shots. Louisville does not have as many. Actually, Montrezl Harrell is one of their better 3-point shooters. So they don’t shoot it great, and that’s an issue.”New CardsHQ and CatsHQ fan apps launched On Booker and Aaron Harrison heating up and what that makes UK if those guys are hitting threes: “It means you have to guard them and that opens the court up. The way opponents have been trying to play Kentucky has been to pack it in on them and make them shoot over the top. But that’s only half the equation. To me, the easiest part of playing Kentucky is how do you keep them from scoring. The hard part is how do you score on them? Because I don’t care how poorly Kentucky plays, if they’re hold teams to under 50 points, they can find a way to score 50 with their talent. But they’re holding teams under 50 points.“I went back and forth on Twitter one day with a bunch of people saying, ‘Hey, we had ’em.’ You had ’em? Are you kidding? They won by 20. There was never a moment in the game where Providence was going to win that game. Same thing with Columbia. Never a chance. At least I didn’t get that feeling. Obviously if somebody hangs around for a period of time – but it never got that way in the second half. It never felt that way in the second half. But anyway, this team is really good and it’s going to be interesting to see how they motivated themselves down through conference play, because playing for a record is not an easy or necessarily fun way to play. It’s kind of like hanging onto something that doesn’t belong to you.” On who in the SEC he can see challenging Kentucky: “Arkansas is good, and Florida has had some good moments, but Florida doesn’t have interior strength. So when you saw Florida play North Carolina, North Carolina hammered them on the glass and inside. Florida played hard and played well, but North Carolina, their interior strength, was the difference. They were able to wear Florida down a little bit. And Kentucky wore North Carolina down. So, you know, I’m not a big transitive property of equality guy, but that’s not hard to figure out. You know, look, there’s nobody in the SEC as good as Kentucky, period. So whoever beats them, it’s an upset, and it’s a really big upset.” On if there’s a position on the floor where he gives Louisville an edge in this game: “Yeah, with Harrell. He’s the best big guy in the game. Willie’s been great, but Harrell can score in more ways than Willie can. But Willie’s a better defender, more versatile defender. I would probably give Harrell the rebounding edge. He’s a hungrier rebounder. Both of them are – you’re talking about two of the five top candidates for National Player of the Year to this point.” On if Cauley-Stein, even playing limited minutes, deserves to be in that conversation: “Yes, I do. He’s surprised me. He’s gotten way better. I obviously knew he was good, but I didn’t expect him to be this good. He’s been the best defender. He’s been one of the five best players of the year to this point. I don’t think there’s any question he deserves it. If you talk about just impact on the game, who’s had a greater impact on the game than Willie Cauley-Stein has? And when he’s had to play – when there’s been issues – just like against Texas, he comes off the Providence game where he shuts down one of the better scorers in the country in LaDontae Henton, who plays the three, and then they have all these foul issues in what can only be called a football game against Texas and he plays way more minutes than he had been playing and puts up ridiculous numbers. He was the best player on the floor, by far.” On Cauley-Stein making himself some money that night: “Well, he’d make it anyway. His defensive ability, running the floor, blocking shots and all that stuff – and the energy stuff he does – he doesn’t have to be a primary scorer. He doesn’t have to be Kareem down in the low post, and he’s not that, doesn’t have to be. A lot of guys don’t realize they can be specialists and have an amazing career in the NBA.” On whether it will be fair to start openly talking about an undefeated season if UK beats U of L: “Well, first of all, it doesn’t matter what’s fair. It’s going to happen anyway. Fans can think or do whatever they want. They have no impact on things. You hear all the time – I have fans come up to me saying, ‘What do I have to do to get ready for this game?’ I go, ‘Doesn’t matter whether you’re ready for the game. You have no impact on the game. It matters whether the players are ready.’ So whatever the fans do – the fans can talk about 40-0 or they can talk about 20-20, talk about whatever they want – and the same thing with us.” On whether, then, it seems reasonable to think/discuss undefeated if UK wins this one: “We’re already talking about it. It is reasonable. They haven’t lost yet. Of course it’s reasonable. But even if it’s not, it’s not like reasonable has been the bar for the media. So the only thing that matters is how the players deal with it. And the hardest thing to manage in basketball is winning. Winning is the hardest thing to manage. Because it’s human nature to get complacent. You start to think that, ‘Well, nobody can beat us. We’ll win.’ And it’s great to feel that way, but you have to prepare the same way for all these games. “And bringing the same level – I brought this up recently when somebody was talking about the Columbia or one of those types of games, and maybe it had to do with some of the upsets like New Jersey Institute of Technology beating Michigan. Turns out Michigan’s not very good, but people were saying, ‘How could that happen?’ You say, ‘Well, did you watch the game.’ They’re like, ‘Well, no.’ Well, why didn’t you watch the game? ‘Because it wasn’t a big game.’ And I said, ‘If you don’t think it was a big game, what makes you think the players are going to think it’s a big game?’ It takes a lot of maturity and discipline and effort to treat games that nobody cares about as big games. “It happens in the NBA all the time. It happens in the NFL. How often do you see the top team in the NFL – like the Patriots barely beat the Jets yesterday, and the Jets can’t get out of their own way. Teams are having a hard time, in certain games, beating the Raiders. You have some games where they get beat by 40 and other games where they play great and sneak out a win. So some of that has to do with how the better team goes into that game. The responsibility is on the better team, and it’s not easy to get up. “Like, Kentucky gets everybody’s best shot. Everybody is the No. 1 challenger coming in to play Kentucky. And they don’t care. When nobody thinks you can win, there’s no pressure on your shot. It doesn’t have to go in. And when you don’t care if it goes in, there’s a wonderful, freeing feeling to that. It’s like you get a free swing at the champ, and nobody cares if you miss. Kentucky doesn’t have that luxury. They have to take all those shots and then return them, and there’s a lot of responsibility that goes with that. I’m not asking anybody to feel sorry for them, but that’s the truth of it. Same thing goes for Duke or North Carolina in their league. “This happens every year. Like Kentucky plays the worst team in the league, in the SEC – name somebody – and they have to play their ass off to beat them, and then after the game you go, ‘Geez, if they played like that against everybody, they wouldn’t be in the bottom of the league.’ Right. That’s the point. They don’t play that way against everybody. They play that way against Kentucky. You can watch a team on film and watch them lose to so-and-so and lose to so-and-so and look awful, and then you go, ‘This doesn’t matter. This is not the team we’re going to get. They’re not going to play like this against us.’ “ On Cal’s “everybody’s Super Bowl” line: “It’s true. I mean, it is absolutely true. That’s the difference between a bad team, a good team and a champion. The bad teams play when they feel like it.” * For instant updates on the Wildcats, follow me on Twitter @KyleTucker_CJ. Email me at [email protected]last_img

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