Iowa State won its opening game of the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in its last seven tries on Thursday as it defeated Connecticut, 77-64, to prevent the Huskies from defending their 2011 title. Despite being an eight-seed, the Cyclones were not expected to dominate the ninth-seeded Huskies in the fashion they did. Coach Fred Hoiberg is now 1-0 in the NCAA Tournament. Hoiberg has a great chance to stay undefeated if his team continues its stellar play, as Iowa State won the rebounding battle, 41-24, over the much bigger Huskies front line and also converted 19-of-20 at the charity stripe in the contest.
The top-seeded Wildcats took care of business against the 16th-seeded Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and walked away on top, 81-65, in their opening game of the tournament on Thursday. Kentucky seemed to have bounced back from its poor 35.9 percent shooting performance versus Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game, as it connected on 55.6 percent of its field goals against WKU. Kentucky also looked to be in top shape defensively, as it held the Hilltoppers under 40 percent shooting. Coach John Calipari's team will be in good shape if it continues to limit opponents, as the Wildcats are 76-1 when holding opponents to 67 points or fewer under him. UK is netting 76.8 ppg this season while holding opponents to an average of 59.2 ppg.
This will be just the third encounter between Kentucky and Iowa State. The Wildcats have won both previous meetings, including a 106-98 decision in the last meeting on March 22, 1992 in the round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament. Just line in 1992, the winner of this matchup will advance to the Sweet 16. The victor will face whichever team comes out on top in the bout between Virginia Commonwealth and Indiana.
Although Iowa State had not been in the Big Dance since 2005, it did not lack NCAA Tournament experience. Senior guard Chris Hill had played in two final fours and has participated in more tournament games than any player in the field, and his confidence from being here before showed in the opening game. Hill scored a team-high 20 points as he outshined UConn's Jeremy Lamb to push the Cyclones past the Huskies. Sophomore Royce White, who has paced ISU all season, recorded his 11th double-double of the season with 15 points and 13 boards. White was the only player in the nation to lead his team in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, and blocks. While Hill and White are going to demand a great deal of attention, Chris Babb, Scott Christopherson, and Tyrus McGee lurk around the perimeter waiting to knock down triples.
White is going to face the toughest test of his career inside against UK's star freshman Anthony Davis. The rookie big man had 16 points, nine rebounds, and an program record for an NCAA Tournament game nine blocks versus Western Kentucky on Thursday. Davis was named the SEC Player of the Year after one of the most remarkable freshman campaigns of all time. Davis is far from the only player ISU will have to worry about in this one. Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist all carry double-digit scoring averages. Point guard Marquis Teague also has the ability to hurt opponents with both his distributing and slashing ability. Darius Miller provides a lift off the bench as well. Miller, a senior guard, is the only player in UK's rotation that is not a freshman or sophomore.