I have rarely been so concerned about a game going into it, and every single one of those fears were justified. Fortunately, the Kentucky Wildcats found a way to win a grind-it-out game against a team that was playing the best basketball of their lives. The Princeton Tigers played more like a 7 against a 10 or an 8 versus 9 than a 13 versus a 4, and Kentucky stared long into they abyss of a first-round exit before Brandon Knight made his only basket of the game -- a shot that ranked about 20 on a 10-point scale of degree of difficulty.
I can't say enough about the poise and skillful execution of the Princeton Tigers. They were truly Tigers in the best sports sense, and just as I said this morning during an interview, teams like Princeton don't know that they're not better than the team they are playing -- they just know that if they have more points at the end, they win. Princeton very nearly pulled off that feat, and a huge upset that would have surely ruined the entire spring of the Big Blue Nation. For myself, I fear my lifespan has been shortened by several years.
This was the strangest game of the season for Kentucky by far. Never before has Kentucky been held to a pace quite this deliberate while so many of their prolific scorers were struggling. Thank Heaven for Darius Miller, who had a terrific game despite missing several wide-open shots. Brandon Knight was mired in abject futility, a funk the likes of which we have never seen from him. Even Doron Lamb had trouble getting free from the sticky Tiger defense, and probably for the first time in the season, didn't even attempt a three point shot.
- The game ball is shared again, this time by all the upperclassmen -- Josh Harrellson, Darius Miller, and DeAndre Liggins. They are the reason we won this game, and our much-ballyhooed freshmen played very much, for the first time this year, as much-ballyhooed freshmen instead of the sophomores they should be right now.
Those who say that Kentucky have no upper classmen to lead this team are wrong. We have three.
- Whither Terrence Jones? He had zero (as in nada, bupkis, none, zip, naught, Fanny Adams) rebounds in the entire first half. He finished with a whopping two. He did have 2 big blocks, so he wasn't completely uninvolved.
- Doron Lamb had an ordinary game, but I must comment on his defense -- Lamb played very good defense, and has improved so much in that area I really had to say something about it.
- Great play by Eloy Vargas. He really gave valuable minutes in this game. He just keeps getting better. Could he be DeAndre Liggins II?
- Brandon Knight made the shot that won the game, but boy, did he struggle. 1-8 from the field, but the 1 he made was the difference.
Overall, folks, we got taken out of our game, but found a way to win on the big stage with two of our best players giving us almost nothing offensively. Princeton played one of their best games of the season, and they ran their offense to perfection. That just shows you that execution can make up for athleticism and talent under the right circumstances. Lacking the huge post presence UK had last year, Kentucky had to manufacture ways to score against a team that kept making tough shot after tough shot.
Congrats to the Tigers, but also the Wildcats on a tough win against a brilliant team. Take nothing away from Kentucky, they ran into a team that absolutely did not want to leave. Rather than getting upset, as so often happens in this situation, Kentucky gutted out a gritty win. Calipari's last playcall was perfectly brilliant, as was Knight's delivery.
Next come the West Virginia Mountaineers in a revenge game. Go, 'Cats!