INDIANAPOLIS - Only 85 miles separate Kentucky and Cincinnati, two of the most storied programs in NCAA history. However, the two powers haven't met since the 1990-91 season.
That changes today when the two regional rivals square off in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at 5:10 p.m. at the RCA Dome.
"We've talked about it (playing Kentucky), it just hasn't worked out," Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said after his first-round win over Iowa. "They have a lot of non-conference games they can't get out of contractually. I think they would make a great opponent."
"I know we have a lot of fans in the region," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "People have been pushing for us to play. We play a pretty competitive nonconference schedule as it is. We'll find a place in the future to do it."
The Wildcats know they are in for an extremely tough game. The Bearcats (25-7) have always been one of the top rebounding and defensive teams in the nation. Opponents are only shooting 37 percent from the floor, and Cincy averages nearly seven blocks per game thanks to 6-6 Eric Hicks and 6-7 Jason Maxiell.
"They are a great rebounding team," Kentucky forward Chuck Hayes said. "Maxiell and Hicks play above the rim."
Added Kelenna Azubuike, "They put up shots and go hard to the glass and try to get it. They are a stronger shooting team than I thought. We have to play with a lot of intensity and put bodies on people."
Especially Maxiell, who scored 22 points and pulled down nine rebounds in Cincinnati's win over Iowa on Thursday.
"I tried to recruit him," Smith said. "He's developed into an outstanding player."
Maxiell is looking forward to today's game.
"I've been here four years, and it's been a cross-state rivalry," Maxiell said. "The game is going to be very intense. It's going to be crowded and loud, and very fun."
The Bearcats have to find a way to contain Hayes and Azubuike, the top scorers on Kentucky's team. They are the playmakers, and if Cincinnati is going to advance, then it must put the clamps on the two stars.
ZONE OR MAN?
Texas had good success with its 2-3 zone defense against the Pack, but Illinois will use a man-to-man defense, and that's fine with Nevada sophomore Nick Fazekas.
"I'd rather see a man defense," he said. "The zone didn't bother us."
This will be a pro-Illinois crowd tonight, but that shouldn't affect Nevada a great deal. The Pack have won 11 straight away from Lawlor Events Center and are 12-2 in road/neutral court games.
"It's like another road game for us," center Kevinn Pinkney said. "We are a good road team."
PARITY IN NCAA
Fazekas was asked about the gap between an eighth seed and a top seed.
"It's not that big of a gap between a 1 and 16," he said. "Illinois got a run from Fairleigh Dickinson (Thursday). In the tournament, everyone is coming with something. It's like bring your A game or go home. Every one has a chance in the whole field."
Two No. 15 seeds-- Eastern Kentucky and University of Central Florida - gave Kentucky and UConn problems. Kentucky won by eight and UConn by six.
Nevada's Ramon Sessions and Texas' Daniel Gibson aren't the only first-year players making major contributions to their teams.
Ramel Bradley, Rajon Rondo, Joe Crawford and Randolph Morris, all from Kentucky, have been key contributors for the Wildcats.
"Coming into the season, it was no secret that we needed the freshmen to come in and make a huge impact," Kentucky senior Chuck Hayes said. "Our freshmen have come in and done a good job of handling the pressure and the hype of being a Kentucky basketball player."
Morris, the 6-10 center, has averaged 8.5 points and 4.1 rebounds, Rondo has averaged 7.8 points and 2.9 rebounds, Bradley is at 4.6 and 1.8 and Crawford is at 3.1 and 1.8. It may not sound like much, but coach Tubby Smith plays 10 players 10 or more minutes per game.
Nevada is 18-0 when holding opponents under 60 points ... Nevada is 1-8 all-time against the Big 10, the only win coming last year in the NCAA Tournament against Michigan State ... Nevada gives up 61.5 a game, and if that happens today, it could be enough for an upset ... Illinois is 8-2 as a No. 1 seed and 4-1 all-time at the RCA Dome ... Cincinnati and Kentucky are tied for the third-longest active streak of NCAA appearances. Both have made it 14 straight years.