Northern Kentucky University’s men’s basketball team took the court to practice earlier this week. As WEKU’s Cheri Lawson reports the team was preparing for their first ever trip to the NCAA tournament known as the “Big Dance."
What they’ve accomplished is rare. Only six other teams have ever qualified for the NCAA Division 1 men’s tournament in their first year of eligibility. And they’re scheduled to play none other than the University of Kentucky Wildcats.
NKU’s Drew McDonald leads his team in scoring and rebounding. He’s looking forward to the match-up.McDonald says he wanted to play a big team. "We knew going in we weren’t gonna be that highly seeded. So we wanted a big team to give ourselves that great opportunity in the tournament to play the best and put our name in a record book somewhere. Remember it being known like the Lehigh, Duke upset or the Middle Tennessee, Michigan State . We just want that opportunity . And to get it, it’s a great feeling.”
The team, known as the Norse, earned the number 15-seed in the Southern region of the NCAA Division 1 championship. Kentucky is number two seed. The Wildcats have made 55 appearances in the tournament, 17 times to the “final four” and they’ve clinched the championship eight times.
NKU Coach John Brannen says one of the things Wildcats Coach Calipari does a great job at is putting guys in positions to be successful. “Naturally when you play Kentucky it’s a tough match up. I don’t care what seed you are. Because of the talent level they bring to the table. I like to think we’re a tough match-up too.”
Growing up in Lexington Paula Jones says “You follow the University of Kentucky sports from the time you are very small’. The 50-year-old works in an office park across from the University of Kentucky and is a die-hard Wildcats fan.She says,March Madness is really one of the most favorite times for a University of Kentucky basketball fan.
Jones admits, if NKU was playing any other team except UK, she’d be rooting for them: “A lot of Kentucky fans are excited for them because it’s a great stage to be on and especially playing Kentucky and I know that they’ll get respect from us Kentucky fans too.”
The game takes place Friday in Indianapolis. The match-up’s inspired a lot of people. In fact, Cincinnati restaurant owner Jeff Ruby has pledged to buy every NKU undergrad a steak dinner if the Norse upset the Wildcats.
In a similar fashion the Bluegrass Hospitality Group is offering UK students and faculty a free steak dinner should the Wildcats win the NCAA title this year.
No doubt this trip to the “Big Dance” for these Kentucky Teams has generated a lot of excitement and media attention…..especially for NKU.
The 450 tickets they had are gone . Drew McDonald says the community support has given the team confidence and motivation. And even though he grew up in a family of UK fans, what he and his team know they have to do now is a “slam dunk.”