FINAL FOUR: UK beats North Carolina for first berth in 13 years


in the second half of UK’s Elite 8 NCAA tournament win, 76-69, UNC at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Sunday, March 27, 2011. Photo by Britney McIntosh

NEWARK, N.J. — John Calipari called DeAndre Liggins over to the sidelines, a sly smile on his face.

Liggins went over. This wasn’t for an instructional talk, or a chewing out. This was celebration time. Calipari placed both hands on Liggins’ head and kissed it.

“He didn’t kiss me back, I can tell you that,” Calipari said.

“He said, ‘I love you,’” Liggins said. “And then we got back to the game.”

At that point there were only 9.3 seconds left, seconds that ran off quickly. And then UK was going to the Final Four, ending a 13-year absence with a 76-69 victory over North Carolina.

“You live for moments like this,” Terrence Jones said.

It was Liggins – the same player who refused to enter a game during his freshman season, who sat out 10 games for undisclosed reasons his sophomore season – who made all the big plays down the stretch.

First, there was a chasedown block of Kendall Marshall with UK clinging to a one-point lead.

“That was the only time we had the ball with a chance to go ahead,” UNC head coach Roy Williams.

And then a three-pointer on the ensuing offensive possession. UK had made 11 threes in the game already. But that was the “dagger,” Josh Harrellson said.

“That was the shot that was getting us to the Final Four,” Harrellson said.

Terrence Jones said the team is used to Liggins’ accuracy from the floor though.

“He makes the most shots when we do the five-minute (three-point) drill,” Jones said. “Coach always tells him he needs to shoot more, because he is a great shooter.”

The next North Carolina possession, Harrison Barnes – who was the driving force behind a late North Carolina run that cut an eight-point UK lead into a tie game with less than four minutes remaining – rose up for an three-pointer. Liggins deflected it, Harrellson grabbed it, Knight sunk a free throw to ice the game, and the celebration began.

“This is my first time here, so I’m kind of shell shocked,” Liggins said. “It hasn’t caught up to me.”

Added Miller: “I wasn’t even sure of what I was doing (after the game ended). I’m still taking it all in. I still don’t know how I feel right now.”

Harrellson chucked the ball up toward the rafters. The team was presented with the East Regional trophy, and the nets were cut down.

Jay-Z congratulated the team in the hallway.

“We did it in the SEC Tournament,” said Liggins of cutting down the nets. “But this is what matters.”

UK used a team effort, in the truest sense. Every starter scored in double digits, led by Brandon Knight’s 22.

The balanced offense withstood Tyler Zeller’s 21 and Barnes’ 18. And with the lengthy John Henson on the bench in constant foul trouble,

Terrence Jones pieced together his most efficient game of the postseason, scoring 11 points and adding seven rebounds.

“Going to the Final Four, you don’t want to be that dude who’s not playing well for your team,” Jones said.

“Guys, you worked hard with, early in the summer when it’s hot outside, and for it to be almost at the end and everybody’s playing as well as they are, it’s just great.”

It was again Josh Harrellson who ended up with the net around his neck and a smile plastered on his face.

“I was leaving it all in Newark,” Harrellson said. “Or wherever I’m in. Next week I’m leaving it all in Houston.”

UK Men’s Basketball: Elite Eight 2011 – Images by Kentucky Kernel