UK advances to Sweet 16 behind Knight’s career-high 30


in the second half of UK’s second round NCAA tournament win against West Virginia at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, March 17, 2011. Photo by Britney McIntosh

TAMPA, Fla. — In UK’s first game of the NCAA Tournament, Brandon Knight didn’t make a shot until his very last try.

Saturday, he hit his first shot — and plenty more, scoring a career-high 30 points on 20 shots.

The outburst from the freshman point guard led UK past West Virginia, 71-63, and into the Sweet Sixteen.

Knight got it going with two early threes, but how he got them was a season-long process. UK has installed more handoffs and pick-and-rolls for players specifically like Knight, good shooters who can rise up if their defender gives them space. West Virginia “gambled” by going under the screens. Head coach John Calipari told the team he wanted them to start aggressive and drive to the rim to start the game, but when Knight’s defender went under the pick-and-roll, he followed his “first instinct as a shooter” and released.

After struggling through all but two seconds against Princeton — a struggle that made him feel “a lot more anxiety” heading into this game — two quick makes bolstered Knight. The freshman usually refuses to show any form of vulnerability or frustration, but a small amount was evident in his statements.

“Thank God my shot was falling today,” Knight said.

For all of Knight’s first-half exploits, West Virginia’s Joe Mazzulla was even better. The senior who had torched UK for 17 points in last year’s Elite Eight game was at it again. He scored 15 points in the first half, scoring on threes, drawing fouls and slicing into the lane for easy layups. So UK did what they had to do; stuck DeAndre Liggins on him.

“First half, he did what he wanted,” Liggins said. “Second half, I had the mindset, ‘I’m gonna stop this dude.’”

UK did, holding Mazzulla to five points — and West Virginia  to 33.3 percent shooting — in the second half. Assistant coach Orlando Antigua said Liggins didn’t shade to one side or the other; he stayed on his feet to prevent Mazzulla from pivoting in the lane and made it difficult for him.

Meanwhile, Knight continued scoring, including five in an 11-0 UK run coming out of the half. But West Virginia eventually keyed in on Knight, face-guarding him and switching on screens to prevent him from having space to shoot or slash. That left it up to the rest of the team to get points.

They did. Terrence Jones got in the paint for four points, and Darius Miller hit his one and only shot of the game, a three-pointer, to give UK a five-point lead with under four minutes to go.

“(Terrence) Jones drove to the basket and my man collapsed on him, so I yelled his name and let it go,” Miller said, who had missed all six shots to that point. “I wasn’t going to quit shooting.”

And UK crashed the boards. West Virginia was the nation’s sixth-best team at offensive rebounding coming into the game. In the first, they had six. They had three the second half. UK started getting after it as well, most notably Josh Harrellson, who finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and four stitches from an inadvertent elbow. No play was bigger than a double-offensive rebound and putback that gave UK a two-point lead with just over four minutes to play.

Both Doron Lamb and Calipari said it was “the play of the game.”

“You know,” Harrellson began. “I just saw an opportunity to go get a ball. I missed the first one and I saw an opportunity to go get it again, and just tried to keep it alive. I knew our team was down at the time, so I was trying to get our team in the game… I wasn’t going to lose. Any game could be my last game at Kentucky.”

His last one wouldn’t be this one. It’s on to the Sweet Sixteen, against either Ohio State or George Mason, in New Jersey on Friday.

“I’m just happy to still be playing,” said Antigua. “Doesn’t matter if it’s in New York, New Jersey, Alaska, Hawaii, as long as we’re playing.”


Knight, Harrellson and Jones discuss the win:

Calipari discusses the win: