Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Kentucky's Knight on a tear

Delivers more heroics against West Virginia to put his Wildcats into Sweet 16

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TAMPA, Fla. — It's not taking Brandon Knight long to build an impressive resumé in the NCAA tournament.

A game-winning shot in the closing seconds of his debut. A career-best 30 points in his next game, helping Kentucky back into the round of 16.

Less than 48 hours after his only basket helped the fourth-seeded Wildcats survive their tourney opener against Princeton, Knight led an 11-0 run coming out of halftime and made six free throws in the final minute to close out a 71-63 victory over fifth-seeded West Virginia.

Not bad for a freshman who's coping with the pressure that comes with playing in the NCAA, while also carrying the hopes of one of U.S. college basketball's most storied programs on his shoulders.

"Definitely for me I feel a lot more anxiety, especially coming into today's game, not playing so well (Thursday)," he said. "But just playing these type of games where you know if you lose your season is done, I think guys really come out and they fight a lot harder, they go after rebounds a lot tougher.

"It kind of changes the game. Guys play tough throughout the season, but I think they step it up a notch in the tournament."

So has the six-foot-three Knight.

And, Kentucky coach John Calipari isn't surprised, comparing the young star's work ethic to that of Derrick Rose, who played for Calipari while leading Memphis to the Final Four as a freshman.

"This young man works like he does. ... Any time you spend that kind of time, you expect good things to happen. If you're trying to get over, if you're cutting every corner, if you're trying to fool around in practice, the minute it goes wrong in the game, you expect it to continue," Calipari said.

"If you're a hard worker and you spend the time, you expect good things to happen, even if I miss two. Everybody says, 'Why would you give him the ball when he didn't make a shot?' Because I knew he expected to make the last one. ... And he's not afraid to miss the last shot. You can't be afraid to miss it, either."

Kentucky (27-8) advanced to the East regional semifinals in Newark, N.J. against either No. 1 seed Ohio State or eighth-seeded George Mason. It's the second trip to the round of 16 in as many seasons under Calipari.

West Virginia, which reached the Final Four a year ago by beating Kentucky in the regional final, led 41-33 after closing the opening half on a 22-7 run. But Kentucky scored the first 11 points coming out of the break and eventually wore down the Mountaineers (22-12).

Josh Harrellson delivered eight of his 15 points during the pivotal stretch of the second half that Kentucky used to gain control. Terrence Jones overcame a slow start offensively to finish with 12 points and 10 rebounds, and each one of Knight's four assists produced easy baskets for teammates.

"He was really good," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said of Knight. "I thought we did a much better job the second half, but there's a reason why everybody recruits those guys; they're pretty good.

"Terrence Jones made some huge plays for them, some huge baskets. They're talented... really, really talented."

Joe Mazzulla led West Virginia with 20 points, but the 6-3 senior guard only had five after halftime. Darryl Bryant scored 15 before fouling out in the final minute, and Casey Mitchell came off the bench to add 11 and help the Mountaineers stay in the game.

For Calipari, it was just his second victory in 10 matchups with close friend Huggins. The two embraced after the final horn.

"I just wished him good luck," Huggins said. "I told him go win the thing."

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 20, 2011 A30

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