“This feels great,” Knight said after the Wildcats defeated North Carolina 76-69 in the East Region finals Sunday at the Prudential Center. “It’s kind of hard to explain it in words. It hasn’t really sunk in yet.”
Knight was a toddler the last time Kentucky has advanced to the national semifinals and helped the Wildcats end the long drought in his first season in the collegiate ranks.
“One of my main goals when I came to Kentucky was to compete for a national championship and be in the position to win one,” Knight said.
As he has done numerous times in the postseason, Knight remained calm and collected against the Tar Heels, who defeated the Cats 75-73 during the regular season and finished with a game-high 22 points.
The freshman guard connected on five shots from long range and helped Kentucky fend off several comeback attempts by the Tar Heels in the second half. Knight isn’t afraid to shoot and sees every shot he takes as going through the rim.
“That just shows how resilient we really are,” Knight said.”It’s all about that confidence that the coaches are talking about. Guys are starting to really have confidence in our team and our ability to win close games.”
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said Knight, named the outstanding player, was the difference in the game and was one reason why his team failed to “get over the hump” down the stretch.
“Brandon Knight made it hard for us to get over the hump,” he said.
It always hasn’t been that way for Knight and the Wildcats.
Even though Kentucky struggled down the stretch during the regular season, the Wildcats have reversed the trend, especially in the postseason. Knight produced the game-winner against Princeton to open the tourney and pulled off those similar heroics in a 62-60 triumph over top-seeded Ohio State in the East Regional finals Friday night.
“Once we got a close win against teams we weren’t considered better than by a lot of people, I think that really showed our group of guys that we can play against anybody in the country, as long as we come out, compete and stick to our game plan for the whole 40 minutes.”
It always hasn’t been that easy for the Wildcats, who have won 10 straight, including four in a row in the Big Dance. The turnaround began when the Wildcats defeated Vanderbilt and Florida during the latter part of the season. Both teams defeated Kentucky once during the regular season.
“From that point on, I think we took off,” Knight said. “We’ve been pretty good since then.”
Knight has had his share of heroic moments during the Cats’ deep run in the tournament, but others have taken part in the team’s success in the Big Dance. DeAndre Liggins pulled the trigger against the Tar Heels with 37 seconds remaining and Kentucky clinging to a 70-69 lead.
The trey by Liggins pushed the margin to 73-69 and provided the spacing between the two teams in the closing seconds.
“That’s how a team gets better and that’s how a team continues to elevate its game,” Knight said.
The team’s rise couldn’t have happened at a better time.