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Cats turn the tables on Buckeyes, rattle the 'experienced' team

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celebrate_horizontal.jpgNEWARK, N.J. -- Ohio State was the been-there, done-that team.

The Buckeyes were, minus freshmen Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft, the team loaded with experience with David Lighty, Jon Diebler William Buford and Dallas Lauderdale. They were supposed to be the unshakeable group, the guys that had played in tight games, overcome second-half hurdles and hit the game winners.

Kentucky, stocked with the uncertainty of three freshmen who lead the team in scoring, was believed to be inexperienced and vulnerable. When teams punched Kentucky in late-game situations, it was the Wildcats who were supposed to falter, and to a point, UK did earlier in the season, losing its first six games that were determined by five points or less.

Clearly, this Kentucky team has turned a page on freshman woes and grown up in a short time.

Kentucky withstood Ohio State's best punch Friday in Newark, N.J., defeating the Buckeyes 62-60 to advance to the Elite Eight. UK battled through foul trouble, 19 lead changes, 11 ties and an early seven-point deficit to win a classic at the Prudential Center.

After trading haymakers with the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, it was freshman guard Brandon Knight who once again came through with the game's deadliest blow. Tied at 60-60 after Diebler's game-tying 3-pointer, Knight drove right, pulled up and nailed a 16-foot jumper from the right elbow with 5.4 seconds left.

Buford had one final shot from the left wing, but it was Kentucky's youth that proved to be the most clutch.

"Coach put me in a pick-and-roll with a couple of seconds left," Knight said. "Instead of going off it, I felt he gave me a lane to the right, so I just went right. He jumped in front of me, so I pulled up, and thank God it went in."

Knight hit his second game winner of the tournament, but it was the moxie of the entire team that led to the victory. To win a game while only leading by three points at the most says a lot about Kentucky's development over the last month.

"No question," Calipari said when asked if UK's close losses had any effect on the current nine-game winning streak. "One, if it didn't hurt, we would have never changed. I used to go in after those games and I walked in and I said, 'This has to hurt bad and you have to take responsibility.' It was a month ago that Derrick Rose had a bad game and he stood up and said, 'This is on me. It won't ever happen again.'

"I told my team, 'That's what being a professional is about. That's being a good teammate. Don't look to blame. If you didn't do your job, just accept it and change.' So those close games were good. ... It is tough going through it, but it benefitted us."

Calipari pointed to freshman forward Terrence Jones as someone who epitomized the change. Jones picked up two fouls in the first 3:09 of the game, but he returned in the second half to hit two big 3-pointers down the stretch.

"That's growth," Calipari said.

Ohio State played poised for most of the game, but the longer Kentucky stuck around, the more doubt started to creep in. When Knight put UK on top by three points on a trey with 5:17 remaining, the realization that the Buckeyes could actually lose began to set in for the Ohio State players.

"They were getting rattled," freshman guard Doron Lamb said. "Running their plays, they were a little shaky."

Even when Ohio State reeled off four straight points and took a lead on Lighty's layup with 2:10 left, junior guard DeAndre Liggins calmly drew a foul, hit two free throws and followed with a jumper.

"I felt they had somebody on him that couldn't stay on him when it comes to DeAndre driving," Jones said of Liggins' second-half play. "He drives the ball real hard and every player they put on him it seemed like he got to the basket."

For all the comparisons of UK's youth against Ohio State's experience, it hardly mattered once the ball was thrown up in the air around 10 p.m. Kentucky, despite its underdog role, wasn't all that inferior to or different from the top overall seed in the tournament, and that was evident after the game when both coaches scoffed at two questions by reporters.

First it was OSU coach Thad Matta, who became irritated when a reporter asked one of his players if it was difficult playing against a UK team that is "not supposed to be here."

"How the hell are they not supposed to be here?" Matta said. "They just won the SEC Tournament. It is a hell of a basketball team there."

Next was Calipari's turn.

"It will never go to rest," Calipari said of all the youth and inexperience questions that surround his team. "It just seems that I am the only one with the young players, but we all have young players. And I would tell you, it never enters my mind." 

Maybe that's everyone's cue to finally realize these Wildcats are now 36 games into the season.

"They are not freshmen anymore when you get to this point," Diebler said.

Kentucky has been there, done that at this stage.

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The second half defense KY played against OS was the best I have seen in years.

with 5 players with 2 fouls each at halftime it looked liked OS would have the advantage.


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  • Larry Owens: The second half defense KY played against OS was the best I have seen in years. with 5 players with read more