Taking the last shot

He hadn’t made a single shot all game. Missed all seven, actually. And he had missed last-second shots at Florida, and at Arkansas.

But the last play was for Brandon Knight. UK ran a pick-and-roll with Knight and Darius Miller; but Princeton shaded toward the junior who had scored 15 points already in this game. So Knight, he of zero points, was all alone.

“I’m with him every day,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “There’s no one that works harder, spends more time or believes in himself, based on his work ethic. He’s the first one in the gym and the last one to leave and he goes at night. I have no problem putting that ball in his hand because he’s made that shot in the gym by himself many times, counting (the shot clock) off.”

He had made them in the gym, in practice; but this was a different situation entirely. It was Knight’s first NCAA Tournament game. The score was tied. This was

Princeton had switched, something Calipari said they don’t normally do at the end of games, and that left the Ivy League’s Defensive Player of the Year, Kareem Maddox, guarding Knight.

“Kareem is our longest, biggest defender,” Princeton’s Dan Mavraides said. “There’s no one else I would rather having on him driving to the basket in a late-game situation.”

Knight waited until there were eight seconds left on the clock before initiating it.

Knight didn’t want to settle for a jump shot. He wasn’t putting the game in the hands of a shot that has been off lately. So he drove. A simple move to the right, cradling the ball in his right hand as he shielded off the defender.

“Time kind of slows down,” Knight said of taking a last shot. “You focus in, making sure you have everything right when you’re making that drive.”

Knight had it right on this one; the shot arched high off the glass, avoiding Maddox’s outstretched arm, and settled through the net, giving UK a 59-57 win to escape a first-round upset.

“Probably, so far in my career,” Knight said of whether it was the biggest shot of his career. ” Just considering the magnitude. If we lose that game, season’s over.”

With the season on the line, it was a difficult shot to make. Miller pointed out that the situation — a freshman, who had missed all seven shots, in his first game of the Tournament — compounded the difficulty.

“I don’t know how to judge the degree of difficulty of a shot,” Knight said when asked how tough the layup was.

He might not have, but Princeton did; Dan Mavraides, who himself had hit the tying shot seconds earlier, called it a “difficulty 10 lay-up.”

Knight said he knew it was going in when he released it. He consistently said that his confidence never wavered, even as he missed and missed. He was left on the bench as UK made a run from five down to recapture the lead. And yet the last play was called for him, a testament to the entire team’s faith — as well as his own — in his abilities.

“Pretty much everybody knew we were going to get that bucket right there,” said Terrence Jones. “That was the whole plan. If you think otherwise, then you won’t get it.”

That confidence was reflected in the team’s huddle at the end of the game. Nobody had to reassure Knight, or say anything particular to him. “We didn’t need to,” said Darius Miller. They knew it was going in the whole time. As did Knight.

“Even if I missed 20 I still would have confidence taking the next one,” Knight said.


KNIGHT: On game-winning shot

JONES: Feeling sick

MILLER: Freshman won’t continue shooting woes

LIGGINS: UK felt “no panic”