Kentucky Passes Its Final Exam, Brings Diploma Back Home

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Did you see the reaction by Kentucky coach Rick Pitino and the players?

We saw joy. But we saw a lot of relief, too.

After Kentucky fought off Syracuse for a 76-67 victory on Monday night, Pitino looked as if he had just survived an ominous brush with danger. Pitino wanted to exhale. Pitino, trapped in his own state, just escaped the overwhelming burden put on his head by demanding Kentucky fans. Kentucky had no choice. The Wildcats had to win a NCAA championship. It was their destiny. It was their moral obligation to the Kentucky fans. And this wasn't a layup drill. After the sweet completion of a dream season, Kentucky sophomore foward Antoine Walker plopped himself down on the foul line, and buried his head in his hands. Had he won or lost? Hard to tell. The pressure to win was enormous. But Kentucky bailed itself out by forcing 24 turnovers. Guard Tony Delk lofted in seven 3-pointers, scoring 24 damaging points. Freshman Ron Mercer jumped up into prime time for 20 points. Of course, this was a team thing. Kentucky had too many players, too much talent, and no desire whatsoever to go back to Kentucky as a second-place team. "We are the Green Bay Packers," Pitino said. "This team belongs to the entire state of Kentucky." We guess that Kentucky will keep them now, at least until next season when the insatiable drive for another championship begins. Syracuse worked so hard. Scrounging for spare rebounds. Running up and down the court, trying desperately to keep pace with those romping Ken tucky thoroughbreds. Flexing their 2-3 zone defense to prevent easy baskets. Putting the basketball in John Wallace's smooth, reliable hands, so he could knock down those timely jumpers and give hope to the tiring Orangemen. …