Monday, March 12, 2001

UK faces old friend

Willard was Pitino aide

By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard ought to be familiar with Kentucky, his team's first-round opponent in the NCAA Tournament.

        Willard was an assistant at UK under Rick Pitino for the 1989-90 season and head coach at Western Kentucky from 1991-94.

  • About the school: Location — Worcester, Mass.; Nickname — Crusaders; Colors — Royal purple, white.
  • Record: 22-7 (10-2 conference)
  • Bid: Automatic (Patriot League tournament winner)
  • Coach: Ralph Willard (32-25, second year; 176-149 overall, 11th year)
  • Key players: Josh Sankes, 7-0 C, Sr. (12.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.3 blocks); Tim Szatko, 6-8 F, So. (11.4 points, 6.7 rebounds); Ryan Serrevalle, 6-0 G, Jr. (11.3 points).
  • Notable: Holy Cross won the 1947 NCAA title with a point guard named Bob Cousy. Kentucky would win in 1948 and '49. Williard coached at UK as an assistant under Rick Pitino. He also was the head coach at Western Kentucky. This is Holy Cross' ninth NCAA appearance but first since 1993. The Crusaders went from 10-18 last year to 22-7 this year.
        Holy Cross, 22-7, is the 15th seed in the East Regional. The Crusaders will play second-seeded Kentucky, 22-9, Friday in Uniondale, N.Y.

        Willard had a successful run at WKU, going 81-42 and taking the Hilltoppers to the 1993 Sweet 16.

        He moved from WKU to Pittsburgh, and wasn't as successful there. He got the Panthers to the postseason only once (the NIT) and was 63-83 before resigning after five seasons.

        Holy Cross brought in Willard, a 1967 graduate of the school, before last season to revive a program that had won 22 games in the previous three seasons.

        He led the Crusaders to an 10-18 record last season.

        The Crusaders took the next step this year, winning the Patriot League regular-season title. They clinched the automatic NCAA bid by beating Navy 68-64 in the Patriot tourney.

        Defense has been the key this season. The Crusaders hold their opponents to 37.9 percent shooting from the field — best in the nation.

        The Crusaders are built around Josh Sankes, a 7-foot, 275-pound senior center. Sankes played two years at Holy Cross after transferring from Rutgers.

        He has set all the school shot-blocking records. He averages 12.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocks a game.

        Holy Cross has another strong inside player in Tim Szatko, a 6-8 forward. He averages 11.4 points and 6.7 rebounds a game.

        The Crusaders have outrebounded opponents by an average of 8.0 per game.

        Guard Ryan Serravalle also scores in double figures (11.3 per game).

        Holy Cross plays a deliberate pace. The Crusaders average 67.8 points a game but only allow 61.9.

        UK will be a huge step up in competition for Holy Cross. The Crusaders' top non-conference win was over Massachusetts. Holy Cross lost to Boston College 77-48. tournament coverage

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