LOUISVILLE — Former George Rogers Clark standout Vinny Zollo said Wednesday that Western Kentucky is "running on fumes right now" after rallying to beat Mississippi Valley State Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio, and then traveling to Louisville to play No. 1 Kentucky in tonight's NCAA Tournament South Region.
"It's been total adrenaline. It's been a ride for us. It's just a matter of staying focused," said Zollo Wednesday. "That's what it's all about. That's what you work hard for. That's what we get up early for in the off¿season. It's what we live for."
The game is especially significant for Zollo considering he originally planned to sign with Kentucky when coach Billy Gillispie was there and even moved from Ohio to Winchester after making his verbal commitment. When John Calipari arrived at Kentucky, Zollo re-opened his recruitment and picked Western.
Here's what Vollo said about the game:
What's this going to mean to you, given your history with Kentucky and what that will be like?
"For me, it's the second NCAA game. We were very fortunate to win the first one. For all of our guys, we had to stay focused. We knew we played a very good team the first round. Moving on, playing Kentucky, we're just going to have that same amount of focus and execution. We've just got to stay focused. For me, personally, I'm going to go in not too high, not too low, like I do every game. Lace up my shoes like I do every game and play as hard as I can and give my team the best chance I can to win."
When you saw the brackets come up, did that pop into your head, seeing the potential for that game and what it meant to you?
"Well, I like the location where we're at, being close where our fans could come see us. Being in Dayton, it was nice having the support there. And being in Louisville, I think the location is what made us most happy for our draw. We knew we were going to be a low seed and play a good team. For all of our guys, we're competitors, and we want to play the best team out there. In the eyes of everybody, Kentucky is that team. Number 1 overall seed. No denying they're one of the best teams in the country. I think we're definitely going to accept that challenge and go out there and play as hard as we can. We've played some best teams this year. We're going to treat it like any other game. Go out there and not be intimidated whatsoever.
"All our guys are tough competitors. We've shown our toughness, come from behind so many games in this tournament run. For us, we're just going to keep moving forward and keep playing hard and give us the best chance to win by our toughness and how hard we play in executing the game plan."
How much do you feel like you can't afford to fall behind by too much against a Number 1 seed?
"You don't want to start out the game bad against a team like this because they can¿¿ it's kind of like horse racing. When you're racing a really big horse, you don't want to get behind too much because the race is only so long.
"As much adversity as this team has gone through throughout the entire year, it's just brought us together as a unit. Coach Harper has put so much confidence in us and our team. Just go out there and play through mistakes and believe in each other. I think through that, we can overcome a lot of things throughout a game. Like I said, you don't want to get behind in any game, especially one like this. A good start for us would be huge in the game and just to execute our game plan."
Is there added incentive for you, given what happened with UK, and what exactly happened from your perspective?
“No. If you can't find motivation to win an NCAA Tournament game, then you just need to go home. I'm here for my team. There's no added incentive, I don't think, to go out there and win. It's 100 percent for my team, it's 100 percent to advance to the next round regardless of who we're playing. I can't say I would go out and play any harder against any other team. This is the next team in front of us, and this is the team we have to play tough against. For me, I look at it every game, I'm going to go out and do whatever I can to help my team win, whether it be rebounding or shooting the ball or whatever it takes. Execute the game plan.
"Tomorrow it is a big game for all of us. We're close to home, and it means a lot to our fans. But to us, not overlooking anybody, but this is another game for us and another game we feel, if we play tough, we'll have a good chance to win."
Could you elaborate kind of what happened between you and UK?
"It's one of those situations where it shows that this is a business. You have to do what's best for yourself, and you have to¿ move on and do what's best for you as a person and a player. I felt that I did that, and I'm blessed to be where I am. I feel like we all have a path that we have to follow, and I feel like I'm following mine and I'm where I should be."