Monday, 21 March 2011 01:41
Darius Miller is ready for the next step.
Miller and the Wildcats will take on Ohio State Friday night in the Sweet 16 after disposing of West Virginia in the third round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday. The top-seeded Buckeyes advanced to the East region semifinals following a 98-66 rout of Cinderella candidate George Mason Sunday.
Kentucky held on to beat Princeton in its tournament opener, before avenging last year’s lost to West Virginia Saturday to earn a second straight trip to the Sweet 16. It was a big step for the Wildcats, one of two teams from the Southeastern Conference still dancing following the first weekend of the prestigious tournament.
Kentucky also proved it could hang with a physical opponent and not back down, especially in the second half with the game hanging in the balance.
“We have definitely grown as a team and have come a long way, so I don’t know (if we could have won this game a month ago),” Miller said. “It would have been a lot tougher if it was a month ago.”
In addition to proving it could match a physical opponent, the Wildcats recovered from an eight-point deficit at the half pulled together in the second half.
“We just stayed focused really,” Miller said. “We all talked about staying focused on what we needed to do. We had a game plan, and wanted to stick with it.”
Part of that game plan, Miller said, involved keeping the Mountaineers off the glass.
“Most of the time we just wanted to keep them off the boards,” he said. “They are a really good rebounding team, and they still rebounded pretty well against us.”
Earlier in the season, Kentucky coach John Calipari questioned his team’s toughness, but patted the Cats on the back following the performance against West Virginia.
“We have come a long way,” he said. “(Coach) Calipari actually called us tough today after them game, and that’s a big step for us.”
Miller, who connected on a clutch 3-pointer own the stretch in the win over the Mountaineers, added that he also was glad to avenge last year’s disappointing loss, but more excited about staying alive in the tournament.
“It just feels good to advance, really,” he said.
Kentucky hasn’t played the Buckeyes since 1997 when the Wildcats dealt Ohio State an 81-65 setback in the Rock-n- Roll Shootout at Gund Arena. … The two teams last played each other in the NCAA Tournament in 1987, with the Buckeyes defeating the Cats 91-77 in the opening round of the Big Dance at the Omni in Atlanta, Georgia. … Kentucky has won four of the last five meetings between the two border rivals. … The game against West Virginia was Kentucky’s seventh tournament contest in Tampa, with the Wildcats now having an overall record of 6-1 in those games. Previously, the Cats had previously played twice in St. Petersburg (1994 and 1998), with a 3-1 mark and once in Tampa (1983), which was a win over Ohio University. Story by Keith Taylor
Saturday, 19 March 2011 02:26
Josh Harrellson knows West Virginia got the best of the Kentucky last year. “They just pretty much beat us to everything,” Harrellson recalled Friday. “We really didn’t play the game we played all year. We really didn’t play well at all. They played the best game they could play, and got the win.” The Mountaineers’ 73-66 victory over the Wildcats in the East Regional final last year propelled West Virginia into the Final Four and ended Kentucky’s memorable season and dashed the team's hopes of returning to the national semifinals for the first time in 12 seasons. “It was devastating,” Kentucky junior DeAndre Liggins recalled. “They got easy layups, and we are not going to allow that this year.” The Wildcats get a shot at revenge sooner rather than later against the Mountaineers Saturday in the third round of the NCAA Tournament at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla. In order successfully redeem last year’s setback to Bob Huggins’ outfit, Harrellson said the Cats can’t afford a similar letdown to last year, which ended Kentucky’s season prematurely. “We got down, and we didn’t get down much last year,” he said. “To be down that far in the tournament to a good team, we kind of panicked. We started forcing bad shots, and you really can’t do that in this tournament because it keeps going downhill from there.” Even though it would be easy for the Cats to dwell on the events surrounding last year’s contest between the two teams, UK guard Darius Miller said the Cats aren’t dwelling on the loss. “We are over it,” he said. “We just have to execute this year and knock down shots. We are totally different (teams). I think both teams are. We are not really looking at it like that, to be honest. We are just thinking of it as another game in the tournament. It is about surviving and advancing.” Kentucky almost didn’t get a shot moving on to the third round following a close call in a 59-57 triumph over Princeton in the opening round Thursday. Liggins said the opener provided another learning experience for the Wildcats. “We have to put teams away early, and not let teams have a chance,” he said. “Not to take anything away from Princeton, they are a good team, but we let them hang around and make it a close game in the end.” Like Liggins, Miller wants to do his part to help the Cats advance to the Sweet Sixteen. “I really want to do the best I can to help the team advance,” Miller said. “We all have the same goals and mindset, so I think we will be all right.” Like last year, Kentucky expects West Virginia’s zone to be an issue, but is ready to counter the Mountaineers’ defensive scheme. “Coach Cal has never really had a team that shot well against zones,” Harrellson said. “Once a team goes zone, it is hard for them to play the dribble-drive. This year we have a pretty good shooting team, so hopefully we can change the outcome this year.” Although revenge against the Mountaineers would be sweet, Kentucky guard DeAndre Liggins isn’t fixated the revenge factor. “It would be great, but it is just another game to us,” he said. “We want to advance and move on.”
Friday, 18 March 2011 02:32
Kentucky freshman guard Brandon Knight wasn’t surprised Princeton took the Wildcats down to the wire in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla. “I knew they were going to fight for their lives,” he said. “They are a great team, and they came out and battled us to the end.” Although Knight made just one basket the entire contest, the freshman guard came though when he banked in a driving layup that sent the Wildcats to a 59-57 triumph over the Tigers and into the third round. Kentucky will take on West Virginia Saturday. It was the Mountaineers who ousted Kentucky from the Big Dance last season to earn a ticket to the Final Four. Knight made the rematch happen when Kentucky coach John Calipari called his number down the stretch. “I know that coach has faith in me no matter how much time is on the clock,” he said. Kentucky junior Darius Miller wasn’t surprised by Knight’s late heroics. “He made a big play, especially for a freshman he made a big play in his first NCAA (Tournament) and finished,” he said. “So it was a very aggressive play, a very tough play, so we're just happy to have him on the team.” Despite making the game-winning shot, Knight said the biggest accomplishment was the ability to extend the team’s beyond the second round. Earlier in the day, Morehead State stunned in-state rival Louisville in Denver, Colorado. “I am just happy we won the game, that is the most important thing,” he said. “I just wanted to be aggressive and not settle for a jump shot. I was able to get in the lane and finish.” Knight said the final play was simple. “It was just pick and roll and we just wanted to see what we could get out of it,” he said. “Darius (Miller) had been hot and I thought they shaded to him, so I just took it.” Knight, admitted that his tournament debut was “tough as far as shooting,” but wanted to make an impact without scoring the ball. “As far as other aspects, I was trying just to affect the game in other ways,” he said. He added that he wasn’t distracted by the lack of production in the scoring column, but was more interested in filling his role as the team’s point guard. “I wasn’t focused on (scoring),” he said. “I was just focusing on running the team and getting the win. That’s the most important thing.” Knight knew his team needed him when it counted the most and stayed focused on the task at hand. “You can’t get down on yourself,” he said. “You have to continue to play hard, keep everyone into it and keep up the enthusiasm.” Knight and the rest of the freshman class struggled in the tournament opener, but the freshman guard said the team’s veterans made a statement. “It just shows that the rest of the team can step up,” he said. By Keith Taylor
Thursday, 17 March 2011 01:33
Josh Harrellson doesn’t put much stock into the belief that experienced teams fare better than younger squads in the NCAA Tournament. “I think Cornell made the same argument last year when they started five seniors,” he said. “We started three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior. I think that who wants it more will come out and take it from the opponent. Hopefully we want it more than they do.” Kentucky is one of the youngest teams in the 64-team field and opens the tournament Thursday in a 2:45 contest against Ivy League winner Princeton. Kentucky’s starting lineup mostly consists of one senior, a junior and three freshmen depending on whether or not Doron Lamb comes off the bench. Despite the team’s lack of tournament experience and thin bench, the Cats have progressed instead of regressed throughout the season. Harrellson has taken note of the team’s confidence level going into the tournament and feels good about Kentucky’s chances of making a deep run that could surpass the success of last year’s team that advanced to the Elite Eight. “I think our confidence is out of the roof right now,” he said. “We have been playing team basketball and coming off a strong SEC tournament with some great wins. Hopefully we can carry that confidence over.” In what will be his first experience in the Big Dance, Harrellson admitted the Cats will likely have “butterflies,” and added Kentucky will “have to play harder and get the butterflies out first and just play basketball.” Harrellson likes the way the Kentucky is playing as a team going into the tournament. The Cats won their last three regular-season games and captured three games in the Southeastern Conference Tournament last weekend at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga. Harrellson added that the Cats are bonding. “We know each other a lot better and built relationships to become better friends as the year goes through. Early in the season we had out cliques, but now everyone is coming together and playing team basketball, which is fun.” Kentucky junior forward Darius Miller has blossomed as of late, another plus for the Cats. “That’s what we need to win games - everybody needs to contribute,” Kentucky Doron Lamb said. “That is how it has been lately, and if Darius keeps playing like the way he has, I think we can beat anybody in the country.” Lamb added that Miller’s development has been a big reason why the Cats have been so successful down the stretch. “Everyone is growing up and the older guys are being leaders,” he said. “We have been talking on defense and team rebounding. Brandon has been pushing the ball as the point guard. If we continue doing that, we can be great.” Story by Keith Taylor