Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kentucky Too Tough For Tar Heels

Brandon Night (Nick Latham/Getty Images)
Kentucky (Wildcats, 27,209 students, Lexington, KY) 76, NORTH CAROLINA 69 -  On too many occasions this season, North Carolina has gotten behind only to eventually win with determined comebacks.  On most occasions, the other team blinks in the face of an intense Tar Heel barrage.  

Kentucky, who had advanced to the regional final after vanquishing the #1 overall seed in the tournament Ohio State, wasn’t one of those teams.   Like Duke in the ACC tournament, the Wildcats took UNC’s best shot and kept knocking down big baskets to hold them off.  

The Tar Heels fell behind in the first half and sustained a long second-half rally, but the Cats simply hit big shot after big shot to hold off the ACC regular season champs.

Harrison Barnes (Nick Latham/Getty Images)
With #2 North Carolina’s loss, the NCAA Final Four will be without a #1 or #2 seeded team since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

Brandon Knight scored 22 points and fourth-seeded Kentucky advanced to the Final Four for the first time since their 1998 national title.  Even with UNC defensive stalwart Dexter Strickland glued to him, Knight continues to make game changing shots as he has done all tournament long.

The Wildcats (29-8) will play Connecticut in Houston on Saturday night after turning back a late surge by the Tar Heels (27-10), who erased an 11-point deficit before running out of gas in the final 2 minutes.

The Wildcats made 12 of 22 three-pointers, a whopping 55% as part of 48% overall shooting.  The Tar Heels shot 42% and made only 3 of 16 (18%) from behind the arc.

Game over.

DeAndre Liggins added 12 points for Kentucky, including a 3-pointer from the corner with 37 seconds remaining to help lift the Wildcats.

A season after falling a game short of the Final Four behind a roster filled with future NBA stars, the Wildcats are heading to the national semifinals for the 14th time behind the heady play of Knight and Harrellson’s emotional leadership.

Harrellson again held his own against North Carolina’s bigger, more heralded front line, scoring 12 points and grabbing eight rebounds.

DeAndre Liggins (Nick Latham/Getty Images)
Tyler Zeller led North Carolina with 21 points and nine rebounds and Harrison Barnes added 18 points, but 
the Tar Heels fell behind early and struggled to keep the hot-shooting Wildcats in check.

John Henson picked the wrong day to play poorly (4 points, 9 rebounds, no blocks) and was in foul trouble most of the game.

Calipari joins Rick Pitino as the only men’s coaches to lead three different programs to the Final Four. Calipari’s previous visits at Massachusetts in 1996 and Memphis in 2008 were vacated by the NCAA for rules violations, but Calipari was not found liable in either instance.

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