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April 3, 2011
Final Four notes: Cats were off the mark
HOUSTON - Kentucky's season ended on Saturday at the Final Four with one clang after another, a 33.9 percent shooting night that left the Wildcats 56-55 losers to Connecticut.
UK fell behind 31-21 after a 9-of-32 opening half (28.1 percent), and the Cats improved only to 40 percent (12 of 30) in the second half, during which a 14-2 run helped them rally and take a lead for a while.
UK finished 9-of-27 on three-point tries, including 2-of-12 in the first half.
"Really we just had wide-open threes in the first half that didn't go down," said UK's Terrence Jones, who had 11 points and 15 rebounds.
Brandon Knight led UK with 17 points, but he was 6-of-23 from the field.
His 26 percent shooting on Saturday was the third-worst performance of his season, and the 23 shots tied a season high.
"I can't explain why we missed shots," Knight said. " ... We just missed shots."
The Cats were also only 4-of-12 on free throws (33.3 percent). They shot 71.6 percent as a team entering the game and hadn't made fewer than six in a game all season.
Jones was productive from the field, making 5-of-8 attempts, but he missed all five of his free throws.
"Free throws were definitely big, and if we'd made a couple more, it would have made a difference," said Knight, who made both his foul shots.
Liggins, like Jones, said the team was getting good looks against Connecticut.
"We just missed," Liggins said. "Like my shot that would have put us up one (with six seconds left), just fell short. We had some good looks. They just weren't going in."
Knight said Reliant Stadium's cavernous backdrop could have been a factor in UK's struggles, but that "I think we adjusted pretty well" to the surroundings.
Knight played more than 39 minutes and said he felt "a little bit tired."
"But that's not an excuse," he said. "When you're in practice, you play tired. When you're at the end of a game, you play tired. You've just got to play through it."
The game was played at a quick pace with few stoppages down the stretch. The under-eight-minute media timeout didn't come until 2:09 remaining in the game. The under-four-minute timeout didn't come until there were just 56 seconds left.
Jones said he thought fatigue might have prevented the Cats from penetrating the ball more and not looking for closer shots around the rim.
Liggins misses big shot
UK's most memorable missed shot came with six seconds left and the team trailing 54-52 -- a deep, contested three from the right wing by DeAndre Liggins that came up short.
But UK's players said they were satisfied with the shot they got.
Liggins was set up off a kick-out pass from Knight, who was being guarded closely as he tried to penetrate.
"That (play) was for Brandon to penetrate, get two (points) if he could (or) drive and kick if he could for a three," Jones said. "DeAndre chose to shoot the three, which we respect. We believe he'll knock them down if he shoots it."
Knight said passing to Liggins was the right move.
"I could have tried to force a shot up, but (passing) was the best option," he said. "Dre had a little bit of a space, and he shot a good shot. It just didn't go in. ... I didn't feel like I could get a good shot off. It would have been force."
Liggins said he initially thought the shot was going in.
"But it was short," he said. "It felt good in my hands."
Liggins, a 6-6 small forward, scored just four points but played respectable defense on UConn All-America point guard Kemba Walker, who had a team-high 18 points on 6-of-15 shooting.
Walker's scoring average entering the game was 23.9 points for the season, and he'd averaged 26.8 in the NCAA Tournament.
"I knew DeAndre was going to do a good job not letting him go for a high amount of points," Jones said. "It really did a good job keeping his hand up, forcing him to shoot it high."
Knight said the Cats' work on Walker normally would be enough to lead the Cats to victory.
"If that's the case, you'd think you'd be in a great position to win, but you still have to knock down shots and the ball just didn't go our way."
Liggins said he thought he did well on Walker, who was 5-of-6 on free throws.
"He's a great player," Liggins said. "He made some tough shots. The ref bailed him out on a couple. I talked to the ref before that he was going to flop when he shoots."
He added with a laugh: "But he's a great player, so I guess he got the Michael Jordan calls. But he's a great player. I respect him to death, and they had a great win."
UK players said Calipari told the team its goal was to hold UConn, ironically, to 56 points, which is exactly what the Cats did.
Still, they lost.
"We did a great job executing on defense," Jones said. "We got them to a number that Coach exactly wanted us to, 56. It's just hard to win when you shoot that percentage."