Cold shooting puts Cats’ Final Four bid on ice [SLIDESHOW]


Freshman guard John Wall moves past John Flowers to make a lay up in the second half of UK’s Elite 8 loss , 73-66, against West Virginia at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY on Saturday, March 27, 2010. Photo by Britney McIntosh

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Their goal was a national championship.

Six newcomers and seven returners meshed together throughout a long season filled with individual and team records, late-game heroics and conference championships, to become a “family.” But in the East Regional Finals of the NCAA Tournament, the Cats couldn’t overcome a poor night shooting from beyond the arc and from the foul line and fell 73-66 to West Virginia.

“I’m proud of my team. They fought, they just kept trying,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “I’m proud of what they’ve done all season.”

In a tournament nicknamed for its bizarre plays and upsets, Saturday night’s game between UK and West Virginia had a little bit of everything.

For starters, despite missing all 16 two-point field goal attempts in the first half and being outrebounded 29-13, West Virginia went into the break with a 28-26 advantage on the score board thanks to eight 3-point baskets.

After missing his first five shots from the field and being held scoreless for the game’s first 13 minutes, West Virginia senior forward Da’Sean Butler made four of his next six shots and finished the half with 15 points. Butler was then held scoreless in the second half until he hit a pair of free throws with 3:42 left in the game to put the Mountaineers up 63-49.

Conversely to the Mountaineers’ outside shooting, UK couldn’t buy a basket throughout the game, missing their first 20 3-point field goal attempts before sophomore guard DeAndre Liggins hit a 3-pointer with 3:28 left to bring the Cats to within 11.    The Cats finished the game 4-of-32 from beyond the arc.

“I think if we would have made shots, it would have spread out,” freshman guard John Wall said. “You give hats off for them. Their defense did a great job on us and we didn’t knock down shots today.”

The Cats frustrated the Mountaineers on defense in the first half and took a 16-9 lead with 8:07 to go. West Virginia stormed back on a 12-2 run and took the lead on a Butler 3-pointer with 4:14 on the clock to give the Mountaineers a 21-18 lead. UK would never get the lead back.

The Cats didn’t aid their comeback hopes at the foul line, either, making just 11 of their first 24 free-throw attempts, and finishing the game 16-of-29.

They didn’t make their first Final Four in a dozen years, but the Cats set numerous records in going 35-3 on the season.

Calipari tied former UK head coach Tubby Smith for most victories for a UK head coach in his inaugural season. DeMarcus Cousins set the UK freshman rebounding record with 364 boards. Patrick Patterson moved to within 11 points of 12th place on UK’s all-time scoring list with 1,564 points. Wall set the UK freshman scoring record with 616 points, freshman assists record with 214, and free throw record with 175 made.

As a team, the Cats won their 44th Southeastern Conference regular season title and their 26th SEC Tournament Championship.

Through all the records, all the highlights and all the glory though, the Cats said they will remember being together as a team, the most.

“All I will remember is being with this team and the last time we were in this locker room together, all of us being sad that we lost,” Wall said. “That’s the key moment because we wanted something special for this team and we had a chance but we came up short tonight and they did a great job against us.”