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Kentucky Wildcats (4) 55 @ Connecticut Huskies (3) 56: Postmortem

Nice season, guys.  We love you.
Nice season, guys. We love you.

After an amazing run that absolutely nobody expected, the Kentucky Wildcats fall to the Connecticut Huskies in the National Semifinal.  It was a great run, but alas, there were just too many things that went wrong, particularly at the line. There were other things also, which we'll get to a bit later.

Congratulations to the Huskies for an outstanding victory.  Despite a determined effort by Kentucky, the Huskies were just much more consistent, and much more poised despite their youth.  Kemba Walker played a good game even though he didn't score much.  Jeremy Lamb was excellent in the first half, but he disappeared in the second.  Nonetheless, the Huskies prevailed on the strength of 81% free throw shooting compared to 33% by Kentucky.  Connecticut advances to the national championship game against the Butler Bulldogs.

For Kentucky, it is a bookend to the season, almost.  Losses to Connecticut on both ends of the year produce a bittersweet ending.  Losing is always bitter, and this especially so due to our uncharacteristically poor shooting.  But there is the sweet, in that we did make it all the way to the last weekend for the first time in 13 seasons.  That is cold comfort to a program that counts championships, not Final Fours, but we cannot sacrifice the good of this season on the altar of bitter disappointment.

I am not much good for handing out superlatives after a loss, especially such a big one, but my overall impression of this game was that, for the first time in the tournament, the Wildcats' youth showed up and hurt them.  Brandon Knight was a mess, and hasn't taken that many bad shots in 15 games.  What got into him is hard to figure by an adult like me, so I am just going to chalk it up to youth.

We saw much of the team revert to early season form.  Harrellson played hard, but not particularly well.  Jones played very well, but managed to miss five free throws, even one of which could have gotten this game into overtime.  Darius Miller disappeared after an early outburst in the second half.  DeAndre Liggins made a huge shot near the end, but he was mostly taken out of the offense by the energy he expended on Kemba Walker. Doron Lamb had a great game, and arguably was the biggest reason we were in the thing at the end.  Eloy Vargas also gave a bit of help, although it was kind of a mixed bag.

Calipari's end-game strategy seemed off to me, but then again, there are lots of ways to play it.  The last possession, in my opinion, was very poor, although I think a lot of that was Connecticut doing a good job on defense and the fact that there was a bizarre scenario which caused over eight minutes of the clock to run without the usual stoppages.  A deeper team could have wasted fouls at strategic times to create them, but Kentucky has no such luxury.

What that did was exhaust the players, a rare situation for Kentucky this year.  They have been great at playing through fatigue all year, but this was fatigue they simply could not overcome.  Poor Brandon was gassed, and so was Jones.  The only guy who seemed to have energy to burn was Harrellson, but he got long stretches of rest in both halves due to fouls.

In the end, we fell short of the goal, but that happens far more than the alternative.  Kentucky fans can console themselves with the knowledge that given the otherworldly recruiting class Kentucky has coming in, we are very likely to be back in this same position next year.  Hopefully, we'll get a different result.