What a game.
Way before this March Madness classic unfolded, I thought that Kentucky would have to do one of two things--outscore Ohio State, or wear them down. On the offensive end, they didn't really do much of either--the Buckeyes crashed the boards better, they got to the free throw line more, they held on to the ball better. On paper, it looked like another conventional Buckeye victory.
But it wasn't really Kentucky's offense (which was average) that won them the game in Newark. Surprise, surprise, it was Kentucky's defense that carried them to the Elite 8.
Josh Harrellson led the Wildcats with 17 points on 7 of 9 shooting,11 rebounds (including 5 on the offensive glass), and 3 blocks, but it was his defense on Jared Sullinger that allowed Kentucky to play effective man-to-man defense for most of the game. Sullinger tossed up 21 points and 16 rebounds, but he needed to work for his points against Harrellson and account for him on the defensive end. The talented frosh Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb took a backseat offensively and defensively to Harrellson, DeAndre Liggins (who put up 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 blocks), and Darius Miller (7 points, four assists, two blocks, two steals), but they had their moments. And after the upperclassmen did all they could to get the win, it was Knight again who nailed the game-winner on a tough jumper with seconds remaining.
Ohio State, one of the best shooting offenses in the country, was held completely in check. The Buckeyes made only six of their threes (four courtesy of Jon Diebler, including one that tied the game to set up Knight's heroics), and shot even worse on their twos, going 13 for 42 (30%) after shooting 53% all season from inside. David Lighty had an ok 5 for 12 performance, but Aaron Craft and William Buford, two of the most efficient shooters in the country, combined for 11 points in an appalling 2 for 21 shooting display. Buford's performance was particularly atrocious, as he took some pretty horrid shots down the stretch when it was clear he didn't have his shot.
The Buckeyes ended up with 103.8 points per 100 possessions for a team that averaged 125.6 pts/100 poss this season. It was a virtuous performance by the Wildcats defensively, as they now stand on the doorstep of the Final Four.
Kentucky will play North Carolina (who waxed Marquette, click here for our recap) in the Elite 8. For reaction from Wildcats fans, head to A Sea of Blue; for Buckeye reaction, check out Along the Olentangy.