HOUSTON -- Kentucky freshman Brandon Knight was in second grade the last time he received anything other than an 'A' on his report card.
Don't call him a 'nerd' though, as teammate Terrence Jones did recently when the subject of Knight earning a mere A-minus on a sociology test came up, a grade that still angers Knight weeks later.
Truth is, Knight is more perfectionist than bookworm. He simply hates to fail. At anything. An English exam. A basketball game. It's all the same to the player who's powered the Wildcats to their first Final Four in 13 years.
Kentucky (29-8) plays Connecticut (30-9) tonight for a spot in the national title game. And the Wildcats got there behind the thrilling shotmaking of Knight, who has established his own identity among a John Calipari-coached fraternity that includes John Wall, Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans.
Knight's two game-winners in the NCAA tournament -- a lay-up in the final seconds in the second round against Princeton and a 15-foot jumper against Ohio State in the regional semifinals -- have given him a chance to achieve something Wall and Rose didn't during their spectacular but brief careers: win a championship.
Ask him what drives him and he can't quite explain it. His parents taught him the importance of a good work ethic, and that repetition has given him a confidence that is undaunted by failure.
Knight missed several game-winning or game-tying shots during the regular season, including five against Arkansas, two in regulation and three in overtime.
Missing wasn't the scenario he imagined while shooting by himself as a kid. Like everybody else who's ever picked up a ball, Knight would envision taking the last shot with the big game on the line.
"You know, 5-4-3-2-1 and then you shoot it, and if you make it you go in and chill," he said.
And he always made it before heading inside. Always. It's a ritual he continues to this day.
There isn't a spot on the floor where he's not comfortable hoisting it. Those late game-winners as a kid? Taken from all over.
"I like to believe that I can shoot from wherever," he said.
He missed his first seven shots against Princeton, yet Calipari didn't hesitate when drawing up one last play in a tie game. Ditto Ohio State. He put the ball in Knight's hands.
"The thing about Brandon is, he's not afraid to miss," Calipari said.
-- The Associated Press