DAYTON, OHIO — Western Kentucky and Kansas had one common opponent during the regular season -- Massachusetts.
In early December, Kansas tripped UMass, 81-75, in the Wooden Classic. In mid-December, UMass drilled Western Kentucky, 91-72, in Amherst.
That was then, though, and this is the NCAA Tournament.
"Regardless of Kansas beating UMass," WKU center Darius Hall said on Friday, "that's in the past and we don't look at it anymore. We're looking ahead."
In other words, the Hilltoppers want a crack at Kansas, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional, tonight in the Dayton Arena.
"We're not gonna lay down and die for anyone," Hall said.
At 6-foot-7, Hall is the 'Toppers' tallest starter, and that means WKU will be badly outsized by the Jayhawks.
"Instead of practice, we're gonna try to put our kids on the rack and make them bigger and stronger," WKU coach Matt Kilcullen said tongue-in-cheek.
It's true Western Kentucky doesn't have much size and it's true the 'Toppers were outrebounded by 16 during Thursday's stirring 82-76 first-round win over Michigan.
But, as Kilcullen emphasized, statistics are just statistics.
"One statistic that didn't show up was we came up with big defensive plays," Kilcullen said. "Or that everybody made big plays at a big time. Sometimes statistics are misleading. The most important statistic is winning."
Western Kentucky has won 27 of 30 games this season, 25 of 26 since that loss to UMass. The lone defeat of '95 was a 70-68 decision at Tulsa.
The third blemish on WKU's log occurred in the opener, and the 100-88 double overtime loss to Jacksonville had a strange twist because it was Kilcullen's first at Western and it was his first against the school he had coached the previous four years.
Kilcullen left Jacksonville, he said, because roundball played second fiddle to the oblong ball in that city.
"At Western Kentucky, basketball is the big thing," Kilcullen said. "We loved Jacksonville, but we realized it was a football town."
As the No. 8 seed in the Midwest, Western Kentucky will automatically assume the underdog role against Kansas. That's unusual for a team with only three defeats, but it's the mantle the 'Toppers wore coming into the 64-team field, Kilcullen said.
"A lot of people in Bowling Green, to be honest, didn't give us much of a chance to beat Michigan," the WKU coach said. "The only people who believed was the team itself."
Michigan, the No. 9 seed, blew a 14-point lead with 8 1/2 minutes remaining, and now Western will ride a wave of momentum into tonight's clash with Kansas.
"Our players got a lot of confidence from that victory," Kilcullen said. "A lot of teams would have lost their composure when they were down by 14. But our kids have tremendous confidence and know the game is 40 minutes."