Kentucky barely missed out on the Final Four last season, then lost five players to the NBA. Yet the Wildcats rebounded – and then some. A 76-69 win over North Carolina in the East Regional final on Sunday sent the Wildcats to their 14th Final Four.
Here’s a rundown of the reaction.
You wondered if the Cats would have enough left in the tank to gain revenge one more time, on North Carolina, the team that beat Kentucky 75-73 in Chapel Hill back in December. Turned out it was a bottomless tank. Brandon Knight scored a game-high 22 points. [Josh] Harrellson contributed 12 points and eight rebounds. [Darius] Miller hit a couple of key threes. Terrence Jones snatched seven boards.
— John Clay, Lexington Herald-Leader
There was a question from press row near the end of the University of Kentucky’s 76-69 victory over North Carolina in the East Region Final: “So what do we call this? John Calipari’s third Final Four, or his first?” Quick answer: It’s the only one that matters now.
— Eric Crawford, Louisville Courier-Journal
If one were able to set up a 16-team tournament with the last 16 years of Kentucky teams, it is likely that the 2011 Kentucky group would not make that tournament’s Final Four. But it will make this season’s Final Four, a testament to a group that never gave up and to improvement of players long ago overlooked. A program with such a rich history is now sending its most unlikely team to the most unlikely Final Four in history.
— Matt Jones, CBSSports.com
Kentucky was supposed to go to the Final Four a year ago, riding some of the best freshman talent ever assembled in one place. That’s long been John Calipari’s game plan. He has built a career shredding the complexities of the college basketball game into one simple tenet: He who has the most talent wins. And for the most part, his theory works. Calipari’s teams win at a blistering rate, stockpiling victories like milk during a blizzard before the talent bolts for the greener pastures of NBA paychecks. If basketball were a morality play, the moral at the end of this story might read simply: Talent isn’t always enough.
— Dana O’Neil, ESPN.com
But this go around the heavyweight isn’t necessarily the favorite, having to down two higher seeded teams and boasting a roster that doesn’t have nearly the star power of the squad that fell one year ago in the Elite Eight. With that, you can’t not love this team, and you can’t not laud the coaching of John Calipari during this recent run.
— Nick Fasulo, Searching for Billy Edelin
The offensive precision, the defensive discipline, the ridiculously perfect play calls — this was John Calipari’s game. This was his day. This is his tournament. For his critics, like this one, who have said he knows as much about X’s and O’s as a Jersey Shore extra, Calipari has shut us up. For those who say he doesn’t know a pick and roll from a buttered one, you must close your piehole, too.
— Mike Freeman, CBSSports.com
It’s hard to imagine a team looking less likely to go on an epic NCAA tourney run filled with historic retribution. Yet that’s what has happened. The largely unsung Kentucky veterans — [Josh] Harrellson and swingmen DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller — have raised their play off the charts. At Big Blue Madness, did you envision UK ousting the No. 1-ranked team in the country in the NCAA tourney behind the daring and grit of Liggins and the muscle and will of Harrellson.
— Mark Story, Lexington Herald-Leader
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