The Kentucky Wildcats faced the hardest road to get to the Final Four. They were in the toughest bracket remaining in the NCAA Tournament. In the East Regional they had the tournament's overall number one seed, the Ohio State Buckeyes. Ohio State was voted number one in the final poll. They also had the ACC Tournament Champions, North Carolina Tar Heels and the Marquette Golden Eagles out of the Big East.
The Buckeyes were one of the most complete teams in the country during the season. They have great outside shooters and with Jared Sullinger in the post, they have great post play. Kentucky is one of the best defensive teams in the country and have a trio of freshmen that have lead the Wildcats all year.
Many in the country picked Ohio State to be in the national championship game, and to get there by eliminating the Wildcats. After rolling over George Mason by 32 points, many thought that Kentucky would not be able to stop Ohio State. They were wrong.
Kentucky played perhaps its best defensive game of the season. The Wildcats did not want to get beat by 3 point shots. As a result, they wouldn't let Senior Josh Harrellson play one-on-one against Sullinger, and occasionally threw a double team at him. This worked as Ohio State, who hit 16 threes in the win over George Mason, only hit 6-16 threes against Kentucky.
While Sullinger did get 21 points and 16 rebounds, Harrellson matched him with 17 points and 10 rebounds. He was able to play physical defense on Sullinger and let the Buckeye's big man know he was not intimated by him. One point in the first half saw Harrellson throw the ball off the chest of Sullinger to save a possession. It appeared that Sullinger pushed Harrellson out of bounds, but there was no call which upset Harrellson and he threw the ball at Sullinger like it was dodge ball.
The game was tied at 30 going into half time. In the second half, no team was able to get more then a four point lead. The game went back and forth towards the end of the game. The final minutes showed why March is great.
Kentucky held a three point lead with Ohio State coming out of a timeout. The Buckeyes were able to get the ball into the hands of Jon Diebler, a 50% three point shooter. He was able to get free and hit a three that tied the game at 60 with 21 seconds to play. Kentucky got the ball into Brandon Knight who dribbled up and let time go down.
Knight, who already had a game winner against Princeton, made his
move to the right and hit a jumper with five seconds to play. Ohio State raced up and got the ball to William Buford, whose three pointer was off and Kentucky held on to move to the Elite 8. It was Kentucky's first win over Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament. They came in 0-5 against the Buckeyes in the Big Dance.
The Wildcats win set up an Elite Eight match up against North Carolina, two of college basketball's winningest programs to face each other with a trip to the Final Four.
North Carolina cruised by Marquette in the Sweet 16, 81-63. They had won the last meeting between the two schools in December 75-73. The two teams have changed a lot since then.
The game opened with North Carolina obtaining a 4-2 lead on Kentucky. It would be the last time the Tar Heels would lead. Kentucky would lead on a Brandon Knight three pointer and never look back.
The Wildcats were able to get John Henson in foul trouble in the first half . With one of the Tar Heels big men in trouble, Kentucky was able to control the paint. The Wildcats were able to drive the lane to attack the basket, or kick out to three point shooters. Kentucky would hit five in the first half and would lead 38-30 at half time.
North Carolina would not go away without a fight though.
The second half started with the Tar Heels cutting the lead down to four. Then the three point shots started to fall again. DeAndre Liggins and Brandon Knight both made a pair of threes to push the lead out to 10. Then Darius Miller pushed it to 11 with a three point play.
Then North Carolina made one last push. The Tar Heels chipped away until they had it down to one point with just under two minutes to play. The run was lead by Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes. Zeller lead the Tar Heels with 21 and Barnes added 18.
Tyler's tip with 1:52 to go made it 70-69. The Tar Heels never got closer. The teams traded defensive stops and then Liggins made a three pointer out of the corner to push it out to 73-69. Barnes three point shot on North Carolina's next possession was blocked by Miller and recovered by Knight.
Knight would go on to seal the win for Kentucky at the free line. Kentucky had won a trip to Final Four for the first time since 1998. Brandon Knight was named the East Regional Most Outstanding Player.
Kentucky will play the University of Connecticut Huskies Saturday night in Houston, Texas.
Check out 2011 March Madness Final Four Preview