HOUSTON—Because UConn could, UK can't … advance to the NCAA Tournament title game, that is.
Riding the continued clutch play of All-American junior guard Kemba Walker’s 18 points, seven assists and two steals, Connecticut knocked off Kentucky 56-55 on Saturday night inside Reliant Stadium to advance to Monday night's championship game against Butler.
The Bulldogs reached their second straight final by defeating Virginia Commonwealth 70-62 in the opening semifinal before 75,421, the largest crowd in Final Four history.
“We played great defense in the first half,” said winning coach Jim Calhoun, whose club led 31-21 at the break after holding UK to 28 percent from the field. “Then they ran off four straight threes and got back in the game. Then our kids decided they didn't want to go home.”
An old shortcoming for John Calipari-coached teams did the most to send the Wildcats home. Just as his Memphis team lost the 2008 national title game to Kansas in overtime because of three misses in the final minute of regulation, UK missed eight of 12 free throws against the Huskies, including two in the final two minutes.
Those missed points undid much of UK's good work in hitting 9 of 27 3s — including six in the final half — that twice gave them the lead, but never by more than two points. Kentucky ends its season at 29-9 and extends its streak of seasons without a national title to 13.
UConn, which improves to 31-9, has now won 10 straight games and will look to win its third national title under Calhoun since 1999 against Butler.
If the Huskies play as they did in the opening half against the Wildcats, they shouldn't have much trouble. Holding UK to 28 percent from the floor (9-of-32) while hitting 52 percent, UConn rolled to an advantage eerily reminiscent of its 50-29 halftime cushion over UK in Maui in November.
But this time Kentucky came back, sparked by a flurry of 3-pointers from Brandon Knight (17 points) and Doron Lamb (13 points). UK twice grabbed the lead but never by more than two points.
“We made plays and looked like we were going to win the game,” said Calipari, “but it's been a crazy tournament all year.”
And thanks to Walker and a defense that held UK to 33 percent for the game, the Huskies held on.
“I saw Butler today,” said Calhoun, “and I saw them beat Pitt — one of the best teams in the country — earlier in the tournament. We've got our work cut out for us. But the fact that we're playing on Monday night is beautiful.”
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...