Thursday, March 17, 2011
Knight, Kentucky avoid upsetting end
By Mark Schlabach
TAMPA, Fla. -- Kentucky freshman Terrence Jones doesn’t even want to think about how his school’s home state would have reacted if Louisville and UK’s basketball teams had both lost today.
“I couldn’t even imagine,” Jones said. “I don’t want to imagine.”
The Cardinals, the No. 4 seed in the Southwest Regional, were upset by No. 13 seed Morehead State 62-61 on Thursday.
Less than an hour later, No. 4 seed Kentucky and No. 13 seed Princeton were tied at 57 with less than one minute to play in a second-round game of the East Regional.
If not for Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight's winning bank shot with two seconds to play in a 59-57 victory, the Wildcats would have been headed back to the Commonwealth, just like their bitter rivals.
“I’m happy we won the game,” Kentucky coach John Calipari told reporters afterward. “There’s my opening statement.”
The Tigers, the Ivy League champions, tied the score at 57 on guard Dan Mavraides’ step-back jumper with 37.5 seconds to go.
After a Kentucky timeout, Knight took the basketball and dribbled at the top. With about nine seconds to play, junior Darius Miller set a screen for Knight on a pick-and-roll play. Knight drove down the right side of the lane and was guarded by Tigers forward Kareem Maddox, the Ivy League defensive player of the year, who switched to Knight after the screen.
“It was a bigger guy, so I thought I had a good chance to get by him,” Knight said.
Knight dribbling by Maddox was one thing. Knight making the shot was an entirely different matter.
Knight, a freshman from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., hadn’t made a shot the entire game. After struggling with his shot in last week’s SEC tournament in Atlanta, Knight missed his first seven attempts against Princeton.
But Calipari said he knew he didn’t want anyone else taking the shot at the end.
“I have all the faith and confidence in the world in him,” Calipari said. “I’ll be honest, I thought he had made one shot. I didn’t think he was like oh-for. That being said, he’s a winner. He’s not afraid to make a play. Guys like him aren’t afraid to miss.”
Knight banked the ball high off the glass and didn’t miss. Kentucky advanced to Saturday’s third round against No. 5 West Virginia, which knocked Kentucky out of the Elite Eight last season.
“I’m with him every day,” Calipari said. “There’s no one that works harder, spends more time or believes in himself more, based on his work ethic. He’s the first one in the gym and the last one to leave, and he goes [back] at night. I have no problem putting the ball in his hand because he’s made that shot in the gym by himself many times, counting it off.”
Knight, who came into the game leading the Cats with 17.5 points and 4.2 assists per game, said he wasn’t worried about missing the shot.
“Once I got by him, I just wanted to make sure to get it high off the glass so it would go in or we could get the rebound,” Knight said. “I want to take those shots. You’re going to make some and you’re going to miss some.”
With Knight and Jones struggling from the floor again, Kentucky’s veterans carried the load against the Tigers. Senior forward Josh Harrellson had 15 points and 10 rebounds, and junior guard Darius Miller had 17 points and four rebounds.
“I thought DeAndre Liggins in the second half and Darius Miller in the first half, and Josh throughout, kept us where we had a chance to win,” Calipari said. “How we escaped, I still have to go watch the tape and figure it out.”