Final Four notebook: Things learned Friday in Houston

by | Special to

Five observations from Friday's practices:

1. Shaka Smart's energy: Before Virginia Commonwealth wrapped up its open practice, the young coach took a charge, dove on the floor for a loose ball, and then jumped in the middle of his team's huddle and started jumping around. To say he's enjoying himself would be an understatement.

2. Butler's demeanor: The team with the most Final Four experience looked like the most confident. The Bulldogs locker room seemed especially focused on the task at hand and only spoke of winning a national championship. Considering this team was 14-9 at midseason, its presence in Houston is remarkable itself. "We're finally back to being who we are," Butler guard Shelvin Mack said.

3. Changing of the guard: Throughout the season, Kentucky's freshmen got most of the press for the Wildcats, but that wasn't entirely the case Friday. Veterans Deandre Liggins, Darius Miller, and Josh Harrellson were the three Wildcats players to join coach John Calipari in meeting the media.

Jeremy Lamb will definitely play more than the eight minutes he played in the win over Kentucky in Maui. (Getty Images)  
Jeremy Lamb will definitely play more than the eight minutes he played in the win over Kentucky in Maui. (Getty Images)  
4. Lamb's leap: Jeremy Lamb played only eight minutes in Connecticut's early season win over Kentucky in the Maui Invitational, and we can guarantee he'll play more than that on Saturday. The long-armed Lamb has become a defensive presence as well as an offensive star, and he admits he has even surprised himself this year. "I didn't think I'd have this good of a season, but I'm happy things have worked out the way they have," Lamb said.

5. We is always greater than me: Individual matchups are big in every Final Four, but Jim Calhoun said that's definitely not the case tomorrow. "It's not Calhoun against Calipari or Brandon against Kemba. It's UConn against Kentucky."

Top five quotes from Friday

"The key with him is he plays every day like he doesn't have a scholarship," -- UConn assistant coach Kevin Ollie on Kemba Walker.

"We have more weapons than we had last year. That's why we're built better to win a national championship." -- Butler guard Ronald Nored.

"He relates to us well because he likes our kind of music. He's into hip hop, more mainstream than old school." -- VCU guard Brandon Rozzell on why Rams coach Shaka Smart relates so well to his players.

"There's not more pressure because we're in the Final Four. We're Kentucky." -- Kentucky freshman Terrence Jones.

"There's only one way to describe him -- he's an absolute pest." -- UConn associate head coach George Blaney on Shabazz Napier.

Quick hits

UConn beats Kentucky if: Alex Oriakhi dominates the paint.

Kentucky beats UConn if: The Wildcats slow the Huskies' transition game.

Butler beats VCU if: Ronald Nored and Shawn Vanzant control the VCU offense with their perimeter defense.

VCU beats Butler if: Jamie Skeen gets Matt Howard into foul trouble.


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