Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Kentucky Rebuffs Umass Wildcats Fight off Rallies, Win 81-74

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Kentucky Rebuffs Umass Wildcats Fight off Rallies, Win 81-74

Article excerpt

Sweat gushing down their brows, 15 points off the scent and suspended in the cruel vise that is Kentucky's pressure defense. Less worthy teams than the University of Massachusetts Minutemen would have submitted, if not pleaded for mercy.

"Ninety-nine percent go under with the pressure that we were applying," Kentucky coach Rick Pitino said, adding, "We were going to suffocate them at every level. We were not going to let them see an option."

Inexorably, eventually, ultimately, Kentucky strangled off UMass 81-74 In their immensely anticipated NCAA Tournament semifinal Saturday at the Meadowlands. But not before the Minutemen (35-2) gratified a crowd of 19,229 and startled the Wildcats (33-2) by cutting a 43-28 deficit to 73-70 with a minute left.

"As an alumnus of that school," Pitino said, "I can't say enough about that team."

Nor about his, which stood tall - enough - in the face of UMass' flurry to advance to Monday night's NCAA championship game against Syracuse. This was not a certainty, given Kentucky's 28.3-point average margin of victory in its four previous NCAA Tournament games.

The Wildcats seemed to panic at times, UMass coach John Calipari said, "but not enough to sway the game."

Said Kentucky's Antoine Walker: "I guess we handled it well. We got the `W.' "

To execute the asphyxiation scheme, Pitino's plan went beyond merely trying to run Massachusetts' thin lineup into a wheezing gaggle. That idea has been tried, and UMass is superbly conditioned.

"I don't think it wore us down," said UMass' Marcus Camby, who led all scorers with 25 points. "It was the last game of the season; it was do or die."

But Pitino's plan also was to work the ball inside in a half-court setup and induce fouls. That worked: UMass' Carmelo Travieso earned his fourth foul early in the second half and fellow starters Edgar Padilla and Donta Bright fouled out. Seldom-seen Giddel Padilla, Edgar's brother, even played eight minutes.

But even after Kentucky scored the first seven points of the second half to pry open its biggest lead, the Wildcats had no delusions of breaking the spirit of the Minutemen.

"I think everybody has written about it and talked about it, about the character of these guys on UMass," Kentucky's Mark Pope said. …

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