Zach Edey: UConn has nothing to lose against underdog Purdue

GLENDALE, Ariz. — No. 1-ranked Purdue has spent five weeks as the top-ranked team in the Associated Press poll this season, and No. Never less than 4. Only twice during the regular season did they enter a game trailing.

But with the Boilermakers a 6.5-point deficit in Monday night's men's title game, star center Zach Eddy says he'll give his team a chance to play looser than No. 1 overall seed UConn.

“Everybody sees us as underdogs,” Eddy said. “So we have nothing to lose.”

Purdue is chasing the first national title in school history while trying to complete the emotional gauntlet of the entire NCAA tournament — last year with a championship and a first-round loss to a No. 16 seed.

A key part of Purdue's success in this NCAA Tournament, according to Edey, was its intent in dictating the game to opponents. The Boilermakers have won their five NCAA Tournament games by an average margin of 19.6 points.

“We're hunters in all competitions,” Eddie said. “We didn't sit back and let teams attack us. We were the aggressors for most of the game.”

The Huskies have won their last five games by an average margin of 25 points, so they will face a UConn team that has been unchallenged a few times in this tournament. UConn is 40 minutes away from becoming the first back-to-back NCAA title winner since 2007, and that potential storyline has proven to dominate this contest.

“It's a game where nobody expects much from us and we're going to come out with that energy,” Eddy said. “We believe in ourselves. We know what kind of team we are. We know what kind of guys we have. All the pressure is on them, so we're going to come out and play loose.”

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7-foot-4 Edey will compete against 7-foot-2 Donovan Klingen, a star UConn center. Both are projected lottery picks in the upcoming NBA draft, and there's a novelty in a big-man matchup in a basketball era limited by floor spacing and shooting.

Eddie was asked about Klingon on Sundays and he was respectful and complimentary. But he insisted he's used to playing against big men since playing in the Big Ten for four years.

“He's a great player and it's going to be a good match,” said Eddy. “Obviously, we're going to give him the respect he's earned all year, but I've played against big men before. I've played in the Big Ten every year, and there's three or four 7-footers in the Big Ten. Obviously, they're not Donovan Klingon. But I'll take it. It's not like it's not used.”

That comment underscored the quiet confidence Purdue will bring to this tournament. Edey repeated several times that UConn's preferred position was just an outside opinion, not how the Purdue program felt.

“I don't think we're going to see ourselves as inferior to another team before the game,” Eddy said.

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