NEWARK, N.J. – Kentucky prides itself on its history, and rightfully so. The Wildcats have done just about everything there is to do in college basketball.
Whether you’re talking about their 51 NCAA tournament appearances, 13 Final Fours or seven national championships, few programs rival the bluebloods from the Bluegrass State.
One thing they’ve never done, though, is beat Ohio State when it counts.
“No one told me that,” freshman guard Brandon Knight said, upon learning his Wildcats will be trying to end a 0-for-5 NCAA tournament drought against the top-seeded Buckeyes in the East Regional semifinals tonight.
“You’re the first person to tell me that,” Knight said. “I mean, there’s a lot of things that haven’t been done, but some crazy things happen in the tournament. I know Ohio State has a lot of great players, but that stat doesn’t really mean that much to me.”
That’s because the Wildcats revel in their past, they just don’t live in it.
Not a single player on their roster was even alive the last time these two teams met in the tournament, when Eddie Sutton’s bunch lost in the first round in 1987. Even current coach John Calipari was a youngster the time before that, when Dave Sorenson’s jumper in the final seconds lifted the Buckeyes to an 82-81 victory and into the 1968 Final Four.
The Wildcats also lost to Ohio State in 1945, and again in 1961 and ’62. In fact, the only program to beat them more times in the NCAA tournament is Marquette, which coincidentally plays North Carolina in the other regional semifinal at the Prudential Center.
Talk about a rough path to the Final Four in Houston.
The Wildcats have one of the youngest teams in the country, but it’s also one of the most talented, with a point guard in Knight who is finally learning to execute Calipari’s unique dribble-drive offense. He gets plenty of help from fellow freshmen Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones, too.
Lamb, one of the nation’s best perimeter shooters, set the Kentucky single-game freshman scoring record with 32 points against Winthrop. Jones bettered that with 35 against Auburn.
It could just as easily be a long night for the Wildcats.
The veteran Buckeyes counter with sagely wisdom. If they choose to run up and down the floor, Ohio State will slow down into a half-court offense and dump the ball inside to 6-foot-9 freshman Jared Sullinger, who is good for a double-double just about every time he steps on the floor.