COLUMN: Cats truly did ‘shock the world’



NEWARK, N.J. — We were wrong.

“We,” as in we the so-called basketball experts, the talking heads and the pundits who were in awe of the Ohio State Buckeyes’ seemingly perfect team all week.

National Freshman of the Year Jared Sullinger was supposed to outmatch UK’s lone senior Josh Harrellson. OSU was supposed to have more depth and experience. UK was a much better shooting team this year, but OSU was even better. And no defense, not even the vaunted defense of UK junior DeAndre Liggins, was going to slow what had been a Buckeye offensive juggernaut the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

The Friday nightcap at the Prudential Center offered definitive evidence, in the form of a thrilling (an understatement, even to the most unbiased of observers) 62-60 UK win, that all we believed to be true was wrong.

“It was great to shock the world and mess with everybody’s brackets,” UK freshman forward Terrence Jones said.

Jones’ reference to shocking the world elicits memories of the 1992 NCAA Tournament and then-Michigan freshman Juwan Howard, a member of the Wolverines’ “Fab Five,” exclaiming outside the locker room after sixth-seeded Michigan’s upset over a top-seeded Buckeyes squad: “We gonna shock the world!”

The Wolverines advanced to the championship game that year.

But it was this freshmen-laden UK team’s turn to shock the world, excluding Lexington. Of course, the win didn’t come as a shock to the team itself.

In order to pull off the upset of the Tournament’s overall No. 1 seed, the Cats knew what needed to be done.

“We wanted to have our best defensive game today, we felt that that was going to win us the game, and we did a great job defensively,” UK junior Darius Miller said.

That incredible shooting prowess the Buckeyes possessed? Virtually non-existent. The Buckeyes shot 19-of-58 from the floor (32.8 percent), their second worst shooting performance of the season. The Buckeyes only shot a worse percentage (32.2 percent) against Northwestern when they narrowly avoided an upset in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals two weeks ago.

Sullinger’s final line in the box score compared to Harrellson’s? 21 points and 16 rebounds versus 17 points and 10 rebounds. However, Sullinger’s final stats were somewhat inflated in that he scored many of his points while Harrellson sat on the bench in foul trouble early in the second half. And even if Sullinger did manage to record his double-double, Harrellson was tougher and played with a nasty streak that made the freshman phenom seem uncomfortable in what was, for the most part, a one-on-one matchup with Harrellson.

As for Liggins’ defensive play? Not only did he provide his usual stout defense, but he chipped in with 15 points and was ferocious in attacking the basket as UK head coach John Calipari decided to run much of the offense around Liggins’ hot hand down the stretch.

All in all, the question marks and doubts directed at UK took their toll on a team not accustomed to playing the role of underdog.

“You were hearing on ESPN all week, ‘Oh, Ohio State is going to win this one’ and them talking about the Elite Eight without even considering us or giving us a chance,” Jones said.

There was plenty of bulletin board material to pull from for UK to use as motivation.

“I was very emotional. I couldn’t sleep last night just thinking about this game,” Liggins said. “They were the No. 1 team and what fired me up, really, is that everybody had us losing, so I was thinking if we win this game, it’s going to be a great feeling, and it is a great feeling.”

Liggins, one of the players with the calmest demeanor on the team when a game has ended, jumped on the scorer’s table once the final buzzer sounded after a frenetic final 30 seconds that included OSU’s Jon Diebler tying the game on a 3-pointer, then the eventual game-winning shot, courtesy of Brandon Knight.

“It’s a happy feeling. I don’t know what made me do it,” Liggins said. “I was just passionate the whole game and I was just happy.

“That’s the No. 1 team in the country we just beat,” he added.

Indeed it was. And there’s nothing wrong about doing something as shocking as that.