As my grandfather and I hooted and hollered over the phone into the wee hours of the morning after UK’s upset of No. 1 Ohio St, I asked him:
“When was the last time this was so much fun?”
Now, Granddad has seen a lot more than me. “I’d have to go back and check,” he said.
We couldn’t think of a time. I mean, last year’s team was amazing. But they were also No. 1 – and that comes with a certain amount of pressure. They were expected to win, so of course an upset sours things a bit. The 98 title team is a good contender. Seemingly coming out of nowhere to win a title (and defeating Duke along the way) is a pretty great thing.
Still, that was 13 years ago.
Thirteen years since it’s been this fun.
And what I mean by that is, this team is still surprising us. Since the SEC Tourney I’ve been saying in my mind “I don’t know if Kentucky can beat these guys.” Yet they have. Whether it’s Florida or Ohio St, they’ve met every challenge and just surprised me more than any team since that 98 squad.
Friday night they did it by playing the perfect game. They had to in order to win, and that’s what they did. Defensively, the Cats held Ohio St to 60 points – more than 20 below their tourney average.
The amazingly skilled and talented Josh Harrellson held Jared Sullinger in check, negating his double-double with his own. Deandre Liggins was masterful in probably his best all-around game, dropping 15 points, 3 blocks and all kinds of intimidation on the Buckeyes.
In essence, the Cats out-toughed an amazingly tough team.
Their 11 blocks helped offset getting outrebounded, and as the Buckeyes amazingly could not execute down the stretch (save for a desperation Diebler three to tie) UK seemed very comfortable with Deandre Liggins either getting to the line, dishing to Harrellson or pulling up for a bankshot that increased the UK lead from 1 to 3.
So many ridiculous things happened – big plays, weird plays, big misses – and it all added up to the perfect game by UK. Did anything say more in the game than Josh Harrellson falling out of bounds after snaring a rebound, only to come back with a fastball throw off the Buick-sized chest of Sullinger? The ball went out of bounds and went UK’s way. Incredible.
– Well, this is a much different Tar Heel squad than the Cats faced earlier in the year. They’re better. But the Cats are better too. Who will win? I honestly have no clue. Both teams are paying their best.
– For Kentucky though, the Ohio St win and the Carolina matchup are icing on what has been an amazing, breathtaking, surprising ride. To make it back to the Elite Eight with this squad is a testament to amazing coaching and amazing individual achievments (looking at you, Jorts). No matter what happens next, this team has found a special place in the heart of the Big Blue faithful.
– Jared Sulinger says he will stay in school another year. I don’t think I can believe this.
– Doron Lamb says he will stay in school another year. I find this much easier to believe.
– As many others have said, the Buckeye team and their coach were nothing but class before and after the game. I’d have no problem cheering for them if they’d advanced.
– Which brings me to another point: Way too much emphasis is put on a team’s result in the tournament. While it’s true the Buckeyes didn’t make the Final Four, their season should not be viewed as a disappointment. It should still be viewed as magnificent. The general point of view on this has to change.
– Big congratulations go out to the Bellarmine Knights, who defeated BYU-Hawaii Saturday to win the Division II basketball title. Scotty Davenport could even win a few more if he keeps recruiting like he is. Does this mean UofL is now the second-best basketball program in town?