NEW ORLEANS - Chane Behanan has the gift of gab. It's a characteristic that endears him to teammates and fans, fills reporters' notebooks and, at times, lands Louisville's freshman forward in hot water.
Behanan made national headlines just 10 games into his collegiate career by proclaiming Louisville would go undefeated this season. The Cardinals were 10-0 at the time and had just knocked off former rival Memphis, but had left the KFC Yum! Center only one time and were certainly destined to lose, which they did 11 days later against Georgetown and again three days after that at Kentucky.
"We're the No. 1 team in the country in my eyes, and like I said, we're going undefeated,” Behanan said on Dec. 17. “Point blank, period."
The two losses that followed started a stretch where the Cardinals lost six times in eight games, leaving Behanan to look like the latest freshman to stick his foot in his mouth without understanding the nature of college basketball and how public comments can come back to haunt a player or coach. Three months later, as Behanan addressed the media at the Final Four, he smiled when asked whether he would have chosen silence over bravado if he had to do it over again.
“I don't regret saying them words,” Behanan said. “I don't regret saying it. At the time we were on a roll, we were undefeated and a lot was going through my mind. The way we were playing at that time, we could make a run. Obviously, we did because Peyton (Siva) picked it back up. We all feed off Peyton. I don't care how many shots Chris (Smith), Kyle (Kuric), Gorgui (Dieng) or me hit, it all turns on Peyton at the end of the day.”
The Cardinals arrive at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome riding an eight-game winning streak that began in their opener of the Big East Tournament. Dismissed as an also-ran, Louisville won four games in four days in New York, then won four NCAA Tournament games by an average of 6.8 points to reach the Big Easy. Meanwhile, Kentucky will come into Saturday night's game with the pressure of being labeled the favorite to win the national championship. Advantage Louisville?
“We're just playing basketball,” Behanan said. “Obviously, anybody can lose or win. I wouldn't call it pressure. I don't believe in pressure.”
If Louisville is to score the upset over Kentucky it stands to reason Behanan must be an integral part of the game plan. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Chuck Hayes clone averages 9.5 points and7.4 rebounds per game, but was a non-factor when Kentucky defeated the Cardinals 69-62 on Dec. 31 in Lexington. In that game Behanan picked up his second foul just 3:45 into the game and compounded the error by earning a technical foul for flipping the ball at Terrence Jones while he laid on the ground after taking a charge from Behanan. Eventually, Behanan fouled out with just four points and five rebounds in 15 minutes.
“I learned from my mistakes,” Behanan said. “I think I just got caught up in the moment and let all the hype get to me. I got three quick, stupid fouls. It won't happen again. I think I would have contributed a lot to that game. I would have rebounded and kept them off he glass. Every time I came into the game I kept thinking about getting my fourth or fifth foul. I've matured from that.”
While the outside world has relentlessly discussed the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry this week the players on both sides have maintained they aren't getting caught up in that part of the showdown. Behanan said he is good friends with UK freshmen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague and ultimately just wants Saturday night's game to be a good one.
“Me, Teague and Gilchrist, even though we go to schools that hate each other we have established relationships,” Behanan said. “I love those guys like brothers.”
In that family Behanan would do all the talking.
No. 4 LOUISVILLE vs. No. 1 KENTUCKY
Final Four – National Semifinals
When: 6:09 p.m.; Saturday, Mar. 31
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome; New Orleans
TV: CBS; Radio: UK IMG Network
Last Meeting: Dec. 31, 2011 - @Kentucky 69, Louisville 62
Records: Louisville (30-9); Kentucky (36-2)