NEW ORLEANS — Before Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins even stepped on the court on Saturday night, the combustible big man knew exactly what to expect from Wake Forest big man Chas McFarland.
"He was coming out in articles saying how he was going to try to get in my head," Cousins said. "I was reading it and I was just trying to prepare myself for a battle today because I knew what his intentions were coming into the game."
McFarland played the role of instigator the whole night, catching Cousins with a couple elbows to the neck and chest and even declining to shake the Kentucky freshman's hand before tip-off.
The big blow, of course, came with the game well out of hand in the second half when McFarland clubbed Cousins across the face when he went up for a shot in the paint, drawing an intentional foul from the officials. Cousins showed his maturity by resisting the temptation to retaliate, picking himself off the ground, jogging away clapping his hands and motioning for the crowd to get on its feet and cheer.
"That was a middle-school move," Cousins said later. "He was doing a lot of cheating. I caught an elbow to the jaw early in the game. He's a dirty player and the whole world knows it, especially after tonight."
If Cousins can keep his cool against a guy known as the ACC's most physical, chippy big man, that bodes very well for Kentucky's national title hopes. After all, three opposing players have gotten ejected as a result of incidents involving McFarland, a list that includes Gonzaga's Elias Harris, whose forearm to the neck of the Wake Forest big man earlier this season landed him an early exit.
"The thing that makes that kid a good player is, he plays with a lot of passion," Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio said of McFarland earlier this week. "At times, it's bad for him because he plays with too much emotion. I tell him, at times he's, like, emotionally intoxicated. Really. It gets the better of him."
Opponents have tried to bait Cousins all season because getting him out of a game by provoking his temper often seems easier than holding him in check while he's on the court.
Trouble is it's happened so much Cousins knows it's coming. He knows what's at stake the next two weeks and he'll continue to avoid incident.