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Edey focus on Final Four, not 2nd Wooden Award

DETROIT — Zach Edey knows he has earned a shot at history.

But the reigning Wooden Award winner and the favorite to win the honor again this season is focused only on Sunday’s matchup against Tennessee and the chance to lead Purdue to its third Final Four appearance in school history.

“If you give me the choice between the Final Four and two-time national player of the year, I’m taking the Final Four every time,” Edey said Saturday before his team’s matchup against Tennessee in the Elite Eight in Detroit.

Only former Virginia star Ralph Sampson Jr. (1982, 1983) won the Wooden Award twice in his career.

Edey said he’s chasing only a championship, as Purdue attempts to become the second team in NCAA tournament history to win a national title a year after suffering a loss to a 16-seed.

Tennessee star Dalton Knecht, who is arguably the only player with a chance to upset Edey in the Wooden Award race, echoed the Purdue star’s sentiments about the stakes ahead.

Tennessee suffered a 71-67 loss to Purdue in the Maui Invitational in November. The game was tied with 3:10 to play and Knecht cut Purdue’s lead to three points with 17 seconds on the game clock, but the Vols couldn’t secure the victory.

This time around, Knecht said he knows he has to be more physical and attack the gaps. And if his team gets the win while Edey grabs another Wooden, he won’t shed a tear about it.

“That award is cool and all but at the end of the day, I think the national title would be a lot better,” Knecht said. “To be the last team standing is the ultimate goal. I don’t really care about that individual award. I’d rather win the national title.”

In the first matchup between Tennessee and Purdue, Knecht finished with 16 points, 6 rebounds and 3 turnovers while Edey registered 23 points and 10 rebounds.

Knecht said while he hopes to send Edey and his teammates home on Sunday, he also admires his dominance.

“He’s done it for two years now and you have to admire that and have respect for that, being able to put up those stats for multiple years,” he said. “You definitely have to have some respect for him.”

Edey said Knecht’s impact is obvious, too. The former junior college player and Northern Colorado star has risen to a projected top-10 pick in ESPN’s latest mock draft after a remarkable season.

“He’s a great player, obviously,” Edey said about Knecht. “That doesn’t need to be said. He’s an All-American. He’s one of the best in the country. Kind of the way he’s done it, he went up a level and he’s taken his game up a level. It’s pretty incredible, actually. I have a lot of respect for him and the way he’s played and the way he’s done it, too.”

Edey says he did not come back to school to chase the Wooden Award again. The opportunity he’ll have on Sunday was his only motive.

Yet, the possibility of capturing another Wooden Award is still difficult to digest, he said.

“I’d be lying if I said it’s not hard to wrap my head around [the possibility],” he said.

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