No reason not to say it at this point. This Kentucky team can win the national title.
It may not. For all we know, UK could go down Sunday to North Carolina and few would be surprised. But even if this edition of Kentucky basketball doesn't make the Final Four, it will go down in UK lore as a team to remember. And quite possibly, the cast of characters in this drama will go down as legends.
Brandon Knight's game-winning basket with five seconds to go lifted Kentucky over top seeded Ohio State and offered a fitting end to a truly fantastic basketball game. It was the first time in NCAA tournament history that UK defeated OSU, and the Cats certainly earned it with stifling defense and clutch play down the stretch.
At this point, Kentucky is led by its veterans. The freshmen still get most of the ink and contribute a lot of the offense. But its clear after UK's three tourney wins that this is DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson's team.
Liggins took over the game Friday night. In fact, there is no good reason he shouldn't be the primary ballhandler tomorrow vs. North Carolina. Brandon Knight, as we've said all year long, is a shooting guard playing point. He is a bit overmatched as an offensive creator when faced with a sound on-the-ball defender like he did vs. Aaron Craft.
Thankfully, Kentucky had Liggins. For a stretch of about nine minutes in the late second half, Liggins did everything. He knocked down a jumper to put UK up by one with 8:54 to go. A minute later he hit Harrellson for a layup on a no-look pass out of a pick and roll that looked like Magic Johnson feeding Kareem. The next time down he found an open Knight for a three, then took a big charge from Sullinger.
And few baskets all season were bigger than Liggins's drive and bank shot with the shot clock running out and 36 seconds left to play. Sure, Kentucky owes its win to Knight's big bucket. But for most of the game, it was the steady play of Liggins that propelled the Wildcats.
Then there was Harrellson. Seldomly in UK history have players undergone the transformation that we are now seeing from this guy. He is essentially playing his way into millions of dollars on a pro team somewhere.
While OSU's superstar big man Jared Sullinger may have had the better numbers, Harrellson was a worthy opponent. "Jorts" tallied another double-double, and keyed UK's defense by allowing the Cats the luxury of not having to double Sullinger. The result was an incredible team defensive effort by Kentucky, where OSU's perimeter players were simply neutralized and the Buckeyes shot a season low 32% from the field. More credit here to Liggins, who lived up to his nickname "the warlock" with suffocating perimeter D. For much of the game, Ohio State couldn't even get off a clean shot.
Harrellson also showed an assertiveness on offense that he's seldom shown at Kentucky, taking the ball into the lane and scoring off the dribble. His soft hands and timing also continue to impress, especially on the offensive glass. But perhaps no moment better exemplifies UK's effort Friday night than when Harrellson saved a ball going out of bounds by throwing it hard at Sullinger. As UK Homer told me at that moment, "Harrellson might get drafted by the Reds now." Check out the play and commentary here.
UK's supporting cast was also tough. Terrence Jones battled threw two early fouls and scored a couple of critical buckets, including a three in the late second half that put the Cats up by two in what continued to be a see-saw affair. Miller didn't contribute much in the points column in the second half, but he helped keep UK from getting blown out early with seven quick points.
Overall, the game was a true classic, with moments that Kentucky fans will remember for a long time to come. But the celebration was short. UK must get it together immediately for a big rematch vs. North Carolina on Sunday. We'll be back with a preview of the matchup soon. Stay tuned.go back