HOUSTON (AP) - Brandon Knight had the ball and Kentucky’s season in his hands.
Then the player who guided the Wildcats to their first Final Four in 13 years behind a series of gutsy game-winners did something unexpected: He gave it up.
Knight opted to pass to teammate DeAndre Liggins with the Wildcats trailing by two in the final seconds Saturday night against Connecticut. Liggins‘ 3-pointer, like so many of Kentucky’s 62 shots, clanged harmlessly off the rim and the Huskies escaped with a 56-55 victory.
“I thought it was going in,” Knight said. “I had confidence in him.”
And maybe not so much confidence in himself.
Knight missed all the big shots and most of the little ones too, finishing with 17 points on 6-of-23 shooting, including a series of jumpers that fell woefully short in the second half. He finally made a desperation 3-pointer when the clock hit zero, by it couldn’t erase Connecticut’s four-point lead. The Huskies will play Butler for the national championship.
“There’s some anxiety that goes along with this game and that may have gotten to him a little bit,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said, “because I can’t remember one or two games where the last three minutes he wasn’t at his best.”
Then again, his teammates weren’t much better.
Though fellow freshmen Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones woke up from a somewhat sleepy NCAA tournament to help Kentucky rally from a 10-point halftime deficit, the veterans who had stepped up in the postseason struggled.
Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson combined for just 14 points.
“I just think everybody was a little nervous,” Harrellson said. “Nobody on our team has been this far.”
The typically unflappable Knight tried to pick up the slack all by himself.
The burden proved to be too heavy.
It marked a humbling end to a breakout season for Knight, who played so brilliantly during March. He hit the winning shot in the second round against Princeton, then did it again in the regional semifinals against overall No. 1 seed Ohio State.
Knight simply didn’t have it against the Huskies. He missed his first four shots _ including a rare airball _ and never seemed comfortable shooting in cavernous Reliant Stadium.