By LARRY VAUGHT
Abilene Christian players know what they will be up against when they play Kentucky Thursday night in the NCAA Tournament in Jacksonville.
“They’re big. They’re athletic. We’ve just got to block out and just play team defense, and we’ve just got to hone in on the defensive side, and they’re really big and they’re really tall, they’re really athletic, and we’ve just got to stay together as a team and just push through,” Abilene Chrisitan’s Hayden Farquhar said.
“Obviously they’re really talented, a lot of guys with great skill levels, athleticism is really the big thing we look at, and they have that at all five positions. Really boxing out is going to be important,” teammate Jaren Lewis said. “We’ve got to take care of the ball, and we just know we have to stay focused and locked into our game plan.”
This is Abilene Christian’s first NCAA Tournament appearance. Their reward — a matchup against Kentucky, a team many think can win the national title.
“It’s a dream come true because you always want to play against higher-ranked schools, and this is up there. Kentucky is a great team, great program, great players and great coaching staff. I used to grow up watching them and just being out there — not being out there, but just watching them and dreaming about going to Kentucky,” Abilene Christian’s Jaren Lewis said. “But this is truly a dream come true. I’m just going to embrace this moment.”
That’s what coach Joe Golding wants his players to do. As much as Kentucky coach John Calipari tries to stress that every team feels pressure in the one-and-done NCAA tourney, Abilene Christian has nothing to lose.
“I think there is no pressure on us, obviously. We’re playing the University of Kentucky, you know. So there is no pressure,” Golding said. “The problem is we’ve still got to find a way to score and rebound the basketball,. We can go out there as loose as we want, it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, it’s University of Kentucky.
“We’re going to keep our guys loose. I was laughing back here backstage, I’ve been trying to get Jaylen Franklin to talk for four years. He’s our point guard, he’s our leader, and he won’t talk at all. He just started talking a little bit this year. He gets up here and he won’t shut up..
“I think it’s great, man, that he’s experiencing that. I think he’s loose. I think he’s having fun, and these guys deserve it. I’m excited for them to embrace it.”