TAMPA, Fla. -- Kentucky coach John Calipari talked at length the other day about how difficult it is to rely on freshmen in the NCAA tournament, regardless of how talented they are, because they lack experience and are prone to lose their poise.
That was Wednesday. In the waning moments of Kentucky's 59-57 victory Thursday against Princeton in an NCAA tournament second-round game, Calipari handed the ball to freshman point guard Brandon Knight -- who was 0 of 7 from the field at that point in the game. Knight drove to the basket and delivered the winner with two seconds to play.
"To be honest, I thought he had made one shot. I didn't think he was an O-fer," said Calipari with laugh as he discussed Knight's basket.
"But, that being said, he is a winner. He's not afraid to make that play. Guys like him aren't afraid to miss. You could just see he wanted to make that play, and that's why I just let it happen, let if unfold."
Knight said of the play: "I just wanted to be aggressive and not settle for a jump shot. I felt confident. No matter what the situation is, [I'm confident] even if I had missed all my shots up to that point."
Kentucky has had many one-and-done, freshman-to-NBA players under Calipari, who often has had to rely on freshmen.
Kentucky starts three freshmen, but Calipari said the victory Thursday was driven by the play of junior Darius Miller, senior Josh Harrellson and junior DeAndre Liggins.
"If you watched the game today, my freshmen didn't play well, none of the three," Calipari said. "They played just OK. Our veterans -- I thought [Liggins] in the second half and [Miller] in the first half and Josh throughout -- kept us to the point where we had a chance to win."
Princeton led by five points with 12 minutes to play and battled the Wildcats down to the final possession, which is probably what made the loss sting. That was evident by the emotional nature of Tigers coach Sydney Johnson during a postgame news conference.
"Kentucky has a great tradition, but ours is no less," Johnson said as his voice broke. "I really thought that it was a special one for the tournament. Princeton and Kentucky, from my vantage point, are two of the best basketball programs that we've seen.
"I wanted to demand from our players that we live up to that ..."
At that point Johnson began to cry before he was able to finish his thought with, "And I think we did. I think we did live up to that."
Kentucky's Miller is one of only a few Wildcats who played in last year's regional final against West Virginia, Kentucky's opponent Saturday. "We know they're a very physical team," Miller said. "We're going to have to be ready to go." ... UCLA coach Ben Howland, the former Pitt coach, was asked about the pressure to win at UCLA as compared to elsewhere.
"It's really an awesome responsibility [to be UCLA's coach]," Howland said. "I really appreciate and understand what a privilege and an honor it is to represent UCLA." ... West Virginia is 25-23 in NCAA tournament games and 7-3 in the NCAA tournament under Bob Huggins.
Paul Zeise: email@example.com .