UK falls in Final Four


Doron Lamb and Eloy Vargas hang their heads in the locker room after to Wildcats Final Four loss, 56-55, against UCONN at Reliant Stadium in Houston, TX on Saturday, April 2, 2011. Photo by Britney McIntosh

HOUSTON — Brandon Knight hit a buzzer-beating three, but this time it wasn’t for the win, and it wasn’t for the tie.

Instead, it could only cut a Connecticut lead from four to one, a final score of 56-55 that left UK just short of going to the national championship game.

“The game was pretty much over, whether I missed it or made it,” Knight said. “It just goes like that some times.”

UK had a chance to take the lead at the end after Knight stole the ball and gained possession with 16.6 seconds left, down two points. Coming out of a timeout, UK called a pick-and-roll for Brandon Knight, but he didn’t have a lane to drive or space to shoot. He passed to DeAndre Liggins –who was 1 for 6 on the day at that point – to take a three-point shot.

“I should have drove it,” said Liggins. “But I thought I had a little bit of the hot hand.”

The shot clanged off the front rim, which was precisely how the night had gone for UK. UK shot 12-for-35 from two (34.3 percent), 9-for-27 from three (33.3 percent), and 4-for-12 from the free-throw line (33.3 percent, a season low and a number ESPN calculated would happen 7 in 1000 attempts with this team). Terrence Jones noted that UK had wide open shots for Darius Miller, Knight and Liggins, shots that are “dangerous for any team.” But the shots – shots that would normally fall down for UK, one of the best shooting teams in the country – didn’t fall. The poor shooting in the first half, especially, created a 10-point deficit at the half.

Everyone on the team admitted they were tight at the start of the game.

“I guess we weren’t expecting everything that goes on with the Final Four, all the pressure and everything,” said Harrellson, who said the nerves started showing right after the tip. “We just came out and let it get to us.”

For the three veterans, the same ones who had propelled UK to this unlikely Final Four berth, it was a night-long struggle. Miller and Liggins both finished 1-for-7. The only players who played well were Doron Lamb, who finished with 13 points — “I told him for three days he was going to have a big game,” Calipari said. “I just felt it.” — and Terrence Jones, who had been flying under the radar the entire postseason. He finished with 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting and 15 rebounds, although even he had a fatal flaw — 0-for-5 free throws.

“We couldn’t make shots,” said Knight, who finished with 17 points. “Like I said from the beginning of this interview, we just couldn’t make shots.”

UK had a stretch where they could at the beginning of the second half, rattling off four straight three-pointers – the only ones UK would make all game – to tie up the game inside seven minutes. But at the end of the game, UK started settling for jumpers. Legs looked tired.

“I felt like the shots we shot looked (like we were tired),” Jones said. “I don’t know. I respect everbody’s decision when to shoot, though. But I think we were a little tired and didn’t fight to get to the rim those last four minutes.”

Two of those were by Knight, whose shots kept clanging off the front of the rim, barely off the mark, as they were almost the entire game. He air balled one, and if that wasn’t his only one of the season, it was an extreme rarity. He finished what Jim Calhoun called an “expensive” 6-for-23 to get those team-high 17 points, and Calipari noted that the magnitude of the game may have gotten to his even-keeled freshman.

“I could say (it’s just another game) all I wanted,” Calipari said. “But there’s some anxiety that goes along with this game that may have gotten to him a little bit.

The inefficiency was amplified by the volume. Knight took 23 shots, more than double that of any two of his teammates combined. The same happened with Connecticut’s star, Kemba Walker, who finished with 18 points – although  some of those came from free throws earned by getting “Michael Jordan calls,” as Liggins put it.

So UK held Walker relatively in check, and held Connecticut as a team to a low value. Before the game, head coach John Calipari told his players that 56 was the target number to hold Connecticut to. UK did just that.

“I just didn’t think we would score 55,” Calipari said.