Cats play second straight perfect game, head to Final Four
When Deandre Liggins tiptoed behind the 3-point line for the biggest trey of his life to put Kentucky up 4 with under a minute to play, when Harrison Barnes finally acted like a frosh for once and jacked up a desperation and ill-advised heave with the game still in doubt, when Brandon Knight sealed the win with his free throws down the stretch – that’s when I knew.
I grabbed my 2-year-old in my arms and we danced and laughed as the seconds wound down. She had no idea what was happening (she just learned to count to five; she could care less about the Final Four). But she loved it anyway, and so did I.
It’s something I’ll always remember.
Back when the game began, you wondered how much would be left in UK’s tank.
As I said before, UK was playing with house money. No matter what, this was just icing on the cake for what has turned out to be a great, surprising season.
But you had to wonder if UK gave everything it had in beating No. 1 Ohio St. Turns out it wasn’t a problem.
It’s rare that we see a team reach its pinnacle, the utmost of what it can do. Yet we’re seeing it with this extraordinary group, led by an extraordinary senior.
It’s even more rare that we see a group surpass their abilities. As a group, this team was not in the same league as Ohio St, yet they beat the Buckeyes, they achieved something greater than they should have, and it was amazing and thrilling to see. Then they did it again against North Carolina.
That’s what made all of this so satisfying as a fan. Not only did UK rise up and take out the No. 1 seed, but they then made it count by following it up with a win that was just as big – a win to get to the Final Four. A win over Carolina.
A win over a Carolina team that had beaten UK earlier in the year.
When I saw VCU beat Kansas earlier in the day I thought back to all the people who’d picked NC to beat UK. I thought maybe it might just be the underdog’s day.
But throughout, UK played like no underdog. They got a lead. They kept it and they never relinquished it, even when Carolina threw several haymakers late, UK never got down. When the Heels tied it late, Brandon Knight (who has a great sense of when to score to control momentum) came back with a deadly three.
As far as stellar players go, Brandon Knight was his stellar self, as was Josh Harrellson, but this game really belongs to Deandre (there’s your UK reps on the all-regional team by the way, with Knight taking MOP honors). Liggins was incredibly diverse in this game: passing, shooting and playing defense like a rabid dog. His three to essentially win the game will go down in lore, along with Knight’s shots against Princeton and O State.
But this game was also about balance: double-figure scoring for all five starters, plus another eight points from Doron Lamb. Plus, UK hung with Carolina in the rebounding department (the Heels held just a 35-30 advantage), limited their run-and-gun transition offense and played outstanding defense.
If you’re counting, that’s four consecutive perfect halves for Kentucky. Not bad for a team that hadn’t played 40 solid minutes until (maybe) the SEC tourney title game. When I say perfect, I mean it. UK shot 12-22 from the three point line against Carolina. In the biggest of games, they came up huge.
Can they carry this momentum over into the final weekend? That’s a question for another day.
For now it’s time to celebrate. To laugh. To dance.
– Jay-Z stopped by Kentucky’s lockerroom to congratulate the team. That’s fly. Apparently Terrence Jones shouted “That’s Jay-Z!” when he walked in. Ha!
– Backing up my former comments about the Itty Bitty East, I will say it’s nice they got a team to the Final Four. Can UConn win it all? Of course. I always said they could. Does that make them a great team? Of course not. They do have one great player, though.
– Which brings me to the initial thoughts on the UConn/UK matchup. Obviously these 2 teams are vastly different from when they first faced each other at the beginning of the year in Maui. This is probably like every other game in the tourney: down to the wire. So who wins: the more well-rounded team (right now I’d have to say this is UK) or the team with the best player on the court (UConn). I have no idea. All I know is that some team, somebody (Liggins?) has to beat Kemba, so now UK gets to take their shot. Bring him on, I say.
Go Big Blue!