As the clock dwindled, and Darius Miller dribbled off the remaining seconds in Kentucky’s NCAA tourney game against Princeton, I felt good about Kentucky’s chances to win. Why? Well, for one it came down to math: Kentucky had done so poorly in these situations you have to figure one of them would work out for them.
But I also felt good because UK hadn’t surrendered the lead. The worst case here was an overtime – and I was convinced UK could win in OT.
Still, I thought Darius would take a jumper for the last shot. Or, I thought Knight would take it in and kick it back to Miller. Later, Coach Cal confirmed that was the play – unless Knight saw no double-team and thought he could get to the rack.
So Knight, who grew up a free throw away from Tampa, read the defense, saw he had one defender and went to the hole. He threw up a layup off the glass and through the net for the game-winner, which happened to be his first field goal of the game.
As one national write put it, it was a case of one player being miles better than anyone else on the floor. But I think it also comes down to four other things:
1. All those previous failures. At Alabama, a bungled exchange between Knight and Lamb caused a turnover. The fix? No exchanges. Just give it to Knight. At Ole Miss, time was left to let Chris Warren nail a game-winning three. Here, two meaningless seconds resulted in a desperation heave. The team learned from its mistakes.
2. Darius Miller’s superb play. Because Miller had an amazing first half with 15 points, Miller’s man could not leave to help on Knight. Plus, did they feel like they needed to? This leads us to . . .
3. Knight’s uncharacteristic bad day. He didn’t make a shot all day. Why would he take the last one? I thought that. I bet Princeton thought that too. It may have been one of the reasons Knight saw only one defender in his face.
4. Luck. Always good to have luck on your side, right? For a team that seemed so unlucky at times, it was a nice time for UK to be lucky for once. Maybe it was a little St. Paddy’s Day magic.
So who cares, right? Survive and advance, right? Right! West Virginia will pose a significantly better threat – and UK will respond.
As we’ve already said, UK struggles in its first tourney games (see: Ole Miss), then plays better as they go. Look for a much better performance in the next round.
But let’s not forget what the team’s elder leaders did in this game. Criticized all year for their lack opf leadership and production, UK won Thursday because of Liggins, Harrellson and Miller. Miller kept them in the game in the first half, Harrellson helped key the decisive comeback run and Liggins played the best defense of anyone, while also finding Harrellson for key baskets inside.
The good news: The Cats won without Brandon Knight (aside from the last 2 points) and a lot of Terrence Jones (who is rumored to have been sick for the last few games). Both will have to step up to defeat the Mountaineers. The team defense will have to be better, and the overall pace of the game will need to favor UK more.
So will this team be like Florida in 2000 – beats Butler on a last-second shot before rolling to the title game? Or will UK fizzle out even more against a better Big East team?
Who knows and who cares? Wildcat fans just need to enjoy this great game and be happy the Cats won it.
Go Big Blue!
When Demonte Harper let it fly, I could only wonder if the Cards would get the rebound. I thought NCAA all-time leading rebounder Kenneth Faried might get the rebound and put it back up and in.
Instead, the ball went through for the Eagles, magically, unmercifully, and with it went the Cards season, like that – poof – into the air like so much nothing.
Well, turns out it was a combination of horrible luck for the Cards. Their opponent was an in-state foe pumped to play them, in an arena far from their fan base, in an altitude that’s hard to get used to, against a team that matched up well. Then their star and leader got hurt. And of course, there could have been a missed foul call on the last possession that would have given the Cards a chance to win.
All of that went against them, and it added up to a first-round (I’m sorry, a second-round) exit. So for the second consecutive year the Cards won’t be one of the best 32 teams in the country.
I felt bad for Preston Knowles, a Kentucky kid who was such a gamer, who had to watch from the sideline. And I felt equally wonderful for Kenneth Faried and Morehead, who I think can really give fellow upsetter Richmond (who upended Vandy) a great game. The Eagles played an amazing game and deserved to win.
And the Cards will once again be left talking about next season.
– Vandy bows out early for the third year in a row, losing to Richmond. I did not see that happening. Call me shocked.
– Temple beats Penn St on a last-second j. Does anyone care?
– Either Richmond or Morehead will be in the Sweet 16. Madness.
– What are the odds Bruce Pearl has his job at Tennessee next year. I think they’re not so good.
– Outlets are reporting former UK coach Billy Clyde Gillispie will take over at Texas Tech. This shocks me more than the Vandy loss.
Well, this could be one of the craziest tourney in years. Happy watching!