The Wildcats woke up Wednesday morning realizing they were one day away from playing their first-ever game in the NCAA Div. I tournament against No. 2 seed Kentucky.
The men’s basketball team started the day talking to the media from around the country. Seniors Jaylen Franklin, Jaren Lewis and Hayden Farquhar were the selected players who spoke to journalists, and Franklin told the national sports press being a part of March Madness was a dream come true.
“It feels amazing,” Franklin said, “We’ve preached about this for our senior year over the summers, wanting to go to the NCAA Tournament. We’re here now, and we’ve got to make some noise.”
Head coach Joe Golding said the team’s route to the tournament been an incredible one.
“It’s been great being a head coach and being able to lead my alma mater to the NCAA Tournament,” Golding said. “Playing the University of Kentucky and being able to experience it and really be a part of March Madness tomorrow night, it’s an incredible opportunity for me and it’s something I’m going to take a lot of pride in one day down the road.”
Players may have a tough time taking Golding seriously tomorrow as he will have a bit of a wardrobe malfunction on the sideline during Thursday evening’s game. While celebrating the Southland championship victory, Golding ripped a hole in his suit pants.
Golding said he started the year with two suits. Then, after leaving one in the airport when facing Nicholls on the road in February, he was down to one. With a hole in his lone suit pants, Golding said he’s still a full go on the outfit.
“I’m coaching them all in my baby blue suit and I’m gonna have a hole in my butt, man,” Golding said. “So it is what it is, man.”
All joking aside, Lewis and Franklin are set to provide leadership after being two of the top scorers on the team and having the experience of playing alongside present day NBA players and Div. I athletes. This includes Franklin being teammate of Malik Monk who played at Kentucky in the 2016-2017 season and was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets.
Lewis said after being around this caliber of talent, it just comes down to the game of basketball at the end of the day.
“It’s nothing new really, it’s just basketball,” Lewis said. “It’s just going out there and hooping. It’s a big stage, but it’s no pressure for us, it’s just doing what we love and doing what we’ve been doing for years now.”
Farquhar, the Throckmorton native, grew up with few people in his hometown but has gradually moved up to bigger stages through his basketball career. He said making the tournament has always been a dream.
“Just coming from a town with 700 people and coming to Abilene where there’s 100,000 people, that was a big change,” Farquhar said. “Now coming to Jacksonville, Florida, to play on the biggest stage in college basketball is truly amazing.”
After talking to the media, Golding and his team took the court for their scheduled 40-minute practice, then concluded their media day.
ACU’s first-ever March Madness opponent comes into Thursday’s game finishing third in the South Eastern Conference and falling just short (82-78) of Tennessee in the conference tournament. Kentucky finished 27-6 overall and 15-3 in SEC play.
Kentucky’s John Calipari, a former NCAA champion, will make his 20th appearance as a head coach in the NCAA Tournament. He said this won’t be just another game on the schedule for his team.
“All we’re worried about is Abilene Christian because they’re good enough to beat us,” Calipari said. “We’re going to have to fight because they can play. They’re well-coached.”
Kentucky’s leading scorer (14.8 points per game) and leading rebounder (7.5 rebounds per game), sophomore forward P.J. Washington, has been wearing a boot up until now because of a sprained foot in the Tennessee semifinal game.
Calipari said he’s optimistic about Washington’s status for the game.
“We sent him to see a specialist,” Calipari said. “We want to make sure he can’t harm himself, but we expect him to play.”
Tipoff between the dueling Wildcats is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. ET (6:30 CT) and will air on CBS.