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If you crunch the numbers, nothing you'll find gives you any indication that the No. 14 seed Kent State men's basketball team can upset No. 3 seed UCLA in tonight's NCAA Tournament first-round clash in Sacramento.
The Golden Flashes' statistics are commendable.
The Bruins' stats are astronomical.
UCLA (29-4) enters the postseason leading the nation in scoring (90.4 points per game), field goal percentage (51.9 percent), assists per game (21.5) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.86). The Bruins have six players averaging in double-figures, and every one of them has more assists than turnovers.
"I've never seen anything like it. I really haven't," said KSU coach Rob Senderoff. "They're an awesome offensive team. Awesome. They're a college version of the Golden State Warriors in a lot of ways. They pass it so well, they shoot it so well. They've got six guys that average double figures. I've never seen that before."
The Flashes produce a respectable 77 points per outing and have three players averaging in double-digits. But their fourth-leading scorer checks in at 5.4 points per contest.
Depth, along with size and overall athleticism, are always major issues when strong mid-major programs battle national powerhouses. Kent State simply doesn't have the horses to run with a UCLA squad that sports three First Team All-PAC-12 performers in senior guard Bryce Alford, freshman guard Lonzo Ball and freshman forward TJ Leaf.
So to have a chance to upset the 18-point favorite Bruins, the Flashes will have to keep them from running wild.
"The biggest key to the game is transition defense, without question," said Senderoff. "To play good transition defense you can't turn the ball over. Those are the things that we have to do, and those are the things we've done well over the last 10 games."
Turnovers plagued Kent State through much of a 13-12 start to the season. But in the last 10 games the Flashes have averaged just 9.2 giveaways per outing, and they're 9-1 during that stretch. Only two teams have cracked 70 points against KSU since Valentine's Day, as limiting turnovers has allowed Senderoff's squad to set its stout halfcourt defense on a more consistent basis.
"We're going to go in and try to do the things we've done to put ourselves in this position," said Senderoff. "It's a lot easier said than done, but if we can do that we'll give ourselves a chance."
Shutting down UCLA is simply not possible. Kent State will likely need to get into the 80s to have a shot, which will not be easy against a Bruins defense that's better than expected based on their run-and-gun style according to Senderoff.
"People don't acknowledge how good they are defensively. They've got good length and athleticism, so they keep people in front of them. They've got multiple shot blockers," said Senderoff. "They're just as good of a team as there is in the country."
While the odds will obviously be stacked against the Flashes in every way imaginable tonight at the Golden 1 Center, they'll have two things going for them.
First off it's March, which means some big names in college basketball are about to go down. Happens every year in the 'Big Dance.'
Secondly, they've been in similar situations before.
Kent State was 5-7 in the MAC before reeling off five straight victories to close February, taking down the top three teams in the conference standings -- Akron, Buffalo and Ohio -- consecutively to secure a first-round home game for the MAC Tournament.
As the sixth seed in the MAC tourney, the Flashes had to pick off those same three foes in three days to secure their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2008. They did just that, ousting the No. 3 seed Bulls in the quarterfinals (68-65), second-seeded Bobcats in the semifinals (68-66) and top-seeded Zips in the championship game (70-65).
Kent State's torrid stretch run has fostered a deep-rooted belief, which is the initial element required to pull off a major upset.
"A lot of people are going to pick them to win the whole thing, and if you ask me if I think they can win the whole thing the answer is yes I do. They're that good," said Senderoff. "With that being said, we're going to go into the game with tremendous confidence and belief in ourselves. They're going to get our best effort. We'll be ready.
"They're as good as anyone, but we'll just have to be better than them Friday at (10 p.m.). That's the only time."
SHAW GIVES BACK: Fifteen years ago, Kent State captured the hearts of the nation by making its historic run to the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight. The 10th-seeded Flashes knocked off No. 7 Oklahoma State and No. 2 Alabama in Greenville, South Carolina, then took out No. 2 seed Pittsburgh before falling to a hot-shooting Indiana squad in Lexington, Ky.
Demetric Shaw, a high-energy lockdown defender on that 2002 KSU squad, now serves as a motivational speaker and has been spending a great deal of time with this year's Flashes. He has spoken with the team on several occasions, and was there to provide a boost when Kent State lost its only game since early February to rival Akron on Senior Night to close the regular season.
"Demetric Shaw came in and told us that's the best thing that could have happened to us, because now we were hungry," said KSU senior guard Jon Fleming. "I've got to agree with that man. It's just been a great ride."
GRATEFUL SENDEROFF: Senderoff will make his first trip to the NCAA Tournament as a head coach. He was an assistant on Kent State's MAC Tournament championship team in 2006 under Jim Christian.
Senderoff left following that season after accepting a position as an assistant coach at Indiana under Kelvin Sampson. A recruiting scandal broke out involving impermissible phone calls, causing Senderoff to eventually leave the Hoosiers program. He received a 30-month show-cause penalty from the NCAA for his involvement.
While still being investigated by the NCAA, then-KSU Director of Athletics Laing Kennedy gave the go-ahead for the university to bring Senderoff back to the program as associate head coach under Geno Ford. Senderoff seized the opportunity, working himself to the front of the line to the lead the Flashes program when Ford left for Bradley following the 2010-11 season.
Kennedy and current Kent State Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen believed in Senderoff when few others did, and that belief has been rewarded.
"I'm just thankful," said Senderoff. "I'll start with one of my closest friends, Geno Ford, who hired me back to Kent State along with Mr. Kennedy. Personally I had some baggage that not everybody would have given me an opportunity to coach here.
"Then when Geno left, our current AD, Joel Nielsen, entrusted me with this program. I'm more thankful and grateful for the opportunity that those people gave me, and just feeling happy that I was able to help lead the group back to the NCAA Tournament because I know how important it is to the school.
"I'm just really grateful to the people at Kent State who gave me this opportunity to lead the program."
DRIBBLES: UCLA finished 15-17 last year, after advancing to the Sweet 16 in head coach Steve Alford's first two seasons. Kent State first-year assistant coach Akeem Miskdeen will be on the bench for the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season. He was an assistant on Hampton's NCAA tourney teams the past two seasons. Kent State was allotted 300 tickets for tonight's game, and sold them all. The Flashes are 1-1 in NCAA Tournament games played in the state of California. They earned the program's first-ever NCAA tourney victory in San Diego, a triumph over Indiana in 2001. Kent State then fell to Cincinnati in the second round. Ironically, the Bearcats and Flashes would meet again Sunday in California if both teams win tonight. UCLA freshman forward TJ Leaf missed the last two games due to an ankle injury, but is expected to play tonight. However, freshman forward Ike Anigbogu injured his foot during practice on Tuesday and is questionable for tonight's game. Both teams have won nine of their last 10 games. The Flashes have trailed at halftime in eight of those 10 contests. Alford, a former star guard at Indiana, on playing Kent State: "I grew up 20 minutes from Ball State in Newcastle, so I've followed a lot of players in (the MAC). I know about the conference very well, and winning nine out of 10 at this level is not easy. They've won continuing to fight, sometimes ahead, sometimes behind. It's going to give us a look that we haven't seen in a while. PAC-12 is usually big, and there are a lot of four-guard lineups out there against Kent State. So we've got to go back to the way we were playing in Novemer and December as far as the style that was being played against us. Hall is big, terrific inside. Walker and Edwin are special guards. They surround them with guys that understand how to play."
Here's more on tonight's matchup:
No. 14 Kent State (22-13) vs. No. 3 UCLA (29-4)
When/Where: Tonight, 9:57 p.m./Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Cal.
Radio/TV: WHLO 640 AM/TruTV.
Head Coaches: Rob Senderoff, Kent State (122-80, 6th season); Steve Alford, UCLA (94-44, 4th season at UCLA).
Series: First meeting.
Latest Line: UCLA by 18.
Bruins Probable Starters/Key Subs: Isaac Hamilton, 6-5 senior guard (14.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists); TJ Leaf, 6-10 freshman forward (16.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 62 percent field goals); Thomas Welsh, 7-0 junior center (10.7 points, 8.8 rebounds); Lonzo Ball, 6-6 freshman guard (14.6 points, 7.7 assists, 6.1 rebounds, 1.9 steals); Bryce Alford, 6-3 senior guard (15.8 points, 43.5 percent 3s)/Aaron Holiday, 6-1 sophomore guard (12.6 points, 4.2 assists, 3 rebounds); Ike Anigbogu, 6-10 freshman forward (4.9 points, 4.3 rebounds); Gyorgy Goloman, 6-11 junior forward (3.6 points, 2.5 rebounds).
Flashes Probable Starters/Key Subs: Jimmy Hall, 6-8 senior forward (18.9 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists); Deon Edwin, 6-3 senior guard (13.0 points, 5.6 rebounds); Jaylin Walker, 6-1 sophomore guard (15.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, team-high 83 3-pointers); Jalen Avery, 6-0 sophomore guard (5.1 points, 2.2 rebounds); Mitch Peterson, 6-5 freshman forward (5.3 points, 2.9 rebounds)/Kevin Zabo, 6-2 junior guard (5.4 points, 1.5 assists); Desmond Ridenour, 6-3 junior guard (4.3 points, 2.4 rebounds); Adonis De La Rosa, 7-0 sophomore center (3.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 23 charges taken).