Florida State isn't awed by Kentucky Southeast Regional

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It looks almost invincible, this top-seeded Kentucky team that ramrodded Wake Forest out of the NCAA tournament.

Jamal Mashburn, who played very much like an NBA No. 1 lottery pick in Thursday's 103-69 victory over the Demon Deacons, said he noticed defeat in his opponent's eyes almost immediately.


"You could see it early. They didn't know what was going on," said Mashburn. "They started searching and guessing."

But Florida State, the most unpredictable of Atlantic Coast Conference teams, isn't conceding anything. The Seminoles were even displaying touches of bravado yesterday, the eve of the matchup that will crown a Southeast Regional champion and decide a Final Four berth.


"Kentucky is playing great right now," said guard Sam Cassell of Dunbar High fame. "But we're not going to back down. Suppose we blow them out. Nobody has said anything about that.

"I think we'll be ready for the pressure and I doubt if they get us down 24-4."

The Seminoles were fortunate to escape Thursday's semifinal with an 81-78 overtime victory over Western Kentucky. They profited by the foul-outs of the Hilltoppers' two key players and a charging call and survived their own free-throw trouble (18 of 38).

Still, they are a dangerous foe for Kentucky because they are immensely talented up front and except for shot-blocking specialist Rodney Dobard (fractured bone in his left foot), they are finally healthy after a season of battling injury after injury.

Cassell was not impressed by the nature of Kentucky's win in a game that was settled by halftime.

"You don't get two wins if you win by 50," he said. "If we have 100 turnovers in this game and win by one point, I'll take it. I'm not going to give it back."

The reality is that the Seminoles will have to play almost a perfect game and hope Kentucky's shooting cools off. The Wildcats made 12 of 15 three-point shots in the first half against Wake, with Mashburn hitting five straight and guard Travis Ford four in a row.

They are abetted by the knowledge that Western Kentucky ran a lot of the same motion offense they will see this afternoon. But if they don't halt (or at least slow) the bombing from outside, they can join the devastated.


Coach Pat Kennedy's plan is to use Florida State's speed and quickness, spread the court offense to deter the effectiveness of Kentucky's traps and accent aggression in the perimeter defense, giving the Wildcats different formations to keep them off balance.

JTC He said: "I don't think we're going to encounter problems we don't see inside the ACC. But every aspect of our game is going to have to be at the highest level."

Kennedy stayed up until 4:30 a.m. yesterday exploring the options on film. A victory would be a major coup for a team that hasn't been this far since 1972 when an unheralded Seminoles team went to the national title game before losing to UCLA.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats are oozing with confidence.

"These guys are very loose. I don't think they have a fear of failure. They don't get tight," said coach Rick Pitino. "Those days at Kentucky of 'we have to win it' are over. We're just having fun."

Cassell likens the Seminoles' role today to that of North Carolina State in 1983 when Jim Valvano coached the Wolfpack to a surprising national title.


"I remember Valvano dancing all over the court," said Cassell. "If we win it, Coach Kennedy and I will be dancing together. We'll dance all the way down to Bourbon Street [in New Orleans, home of the Final Four]."

To get the chance, the Seminoles will have to clear a huge hurdle today. Nobody said it would be easy.