So far, so good.
The Kentucky Wildcats went 2-0 this weekend in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament to reach the Sweet 16 for the 16th time in school history. But the wins didn't come without drama.
The Cats outlasted Princeton on Thursday, owing a two-point win to a buzzer beating finger roll by Brandon Knight. The 59-57 victory came on the back of a 17-point performance by Darius Miller and solid all-around play from UK's upperclassmen (DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson).
On Saturday, the Cats avenged last season's surprising Elite 8 tournament ouster by defeating the West Virginia Mountaineers 71-63, overcoming an 8-point halftime deficit in the process.
Before Knight's game winner vs. Princeton, he had been scoreless for 39 plus minutes. The trust Coach Cal showed in him to let him handle the rock and create in the clutch seemed to turn a light on inside his head. Knight finished with 30 against West Virginia, and was able to penetrate and finish around the goal virtually at will. His continued fearlessness will be a big key to UK advancing further in this tourney.
Harrellson has rounded into not just a player maximizing his talent and giving UK good minutes. The kid has become a veritable weapon for Kentucky. He has stickem hands and is scoring with both the left and the right. In the two tournaments (SEC and NCAA), Harrellson is now averaging 12 points and 9 rebounds. He doesn't want to go home.
In the two tourney games, the primary driver of Kentucky's success has been defense. Princeton and WVU averaged a combined 43.8% shooting and scored an average of 60 points. But more impressively, the Cats got stops when they needed them. Even more specifically, Liggins got the Cats stops when they needed them. His play in the second half vs. West Virginia was astounding, as Kentucky held the 'Eers to only 22 points in the half and completely shut down Joe Mazzulla, who got 15 of a career high 19 points in the first half.
The road gets a little bit tougher from here. The Cats move on to Newark, N.J., where Friday they will meet the overall top seed in the tournament, the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Cats match up pretty well with OSU, all things considered. We'll provide a game breakdown later in the week.
For now, we'll leave you with this thought. If someone told you before the season started that this Kentucky team would win at least 27 games, bring home the SEC Tournament title and make it to the Sweet 16, you'd say "I'll take it." Win or lose to Ohio State, Cat fans should keep that in mind.go back