These Kentucky Wildcats Have Nine Lives

The basketball gods preside over a just and impartial court. Momentum swings back and forth like a pendulum in motion. Sometimes the momentum takes years to complete its oscillation in one direction. On March 12, 2005 freshman point guard Darius Washington Jr. was fouled on a three-point attempt as time expired in the Conference USA Championship while the Memphis Tigers trailed by two. Because there was no clock, officials cleared everyone out and sent Washington to shoot the three free throws on a lonely island.

He sank, the first, missed the second and the third danced off the rim. Washington collapsed knowing that he'd just cost 22-16 Memphis an automatic NCAA Tournament berth and that the NIT was their empty consolation. John Calipari was the head coach. Three years later, he'd moved up in the world from the Dajuan Wagners and Darius Washington's to Derrick Rose in the NCAA championship game instead of the Conference USA title tilt.

RELATED: John Calipari Is Taking Bébé's Kids For A Championship Joyride

Six years ago, Rose couldn't convert a pair of pivotal free throws that would have put the Memphis Tigers ahead by four in the final 10.8 seconds of the national championship game.

Instead, he clanked the first freebie, made the second and on the ensuing possession Kansas’ junior point guard Mario Chalmers received a dribbled handoff sprinting left, dribbled once and swished a trey from near the top of the key that sent the '08 national championship into overtime where the Jayhawks would conquer Memphis' deflated spirits.


Free throws plagued that team through the entire season and the basketball gods waited until the final seconds to punish them for 61 percent shooting from the charity stripe. Calipari was finally reimbursed by the basketball deities on April 5, 2014.

Wisconsin guard Traevon Jackson is one of the best clutch shooters in college basketball. Last season, Jackson played hero three times with game-winning or game-tying shots and this year he hit a pull-up to defeat Michigan State in addition to knocking down a 15-footer that clinched an early November win over Florida.

His miss on the final desperation bank shot will give him nightmares.  However, a miss on the first of three free throws on their penultimate possession indirectly cost Wisconsin a national championship trip 

Jackson's miss put Wisconsin ahead by two instead of three and prevented Bo Ryan from fouling before Kentucky could get off a game-tying three on the ensuing possession. 

The stat that throws extra salt on the wound is knowledge that it was the first free throw miss of the game for the Badgers. The box score will always show just one blip out of 20 attempts, but it goes to show that perfection is the only thing good enough to beat the Wildcats.

Josh Gasser will be criticized for backing up with his hands down and contesting Aaron's game-winning trey late, but was there any expectation that Kentucky would play for the win after Jackson's missed free throw? Nothing would have been worse than fouling Aaron, which Keith Appling did on a Shabazz Napier three in the final 35 seconds of the East Regional foul last Sunday.

Aaron Harrison’s legend grew on the final offensive possession of the national semifinals. Down by two with the clock winding down, Harrison released a deep trey that went right through the net and ricocheted off the hardwood and sprayed shrapnel into the collective heart of Wisconsin. Aaron's three swished from the left wing and propelled Kentucky to a win that will echo through the annals of history.

Remember when Tyler Ennis was college basketball’s premier reptilian cold-blooded freshman shooter? In clutch situations, it looks like Aaron Harrison is shooting into an enlarged basket the size of Pharrell's hat. Aaron Harrison’s three against Michigan will live on in Kentucky lore, but against Louisville he also Draino'd a go-ahead three from the left corner with 40 seconds remaining. 

2) Before the second half began, CBS aired this graphic showing each of the runs Wisconsin made to start the second half of every game in this tournament. The Wildcats charged out of the gates like Secretariat at the Kentucky derby and imposed their young wills on the Badgers. Broadcast graphics have been known to jinx and this one didn't disappoint.

3) Duje Dukan helped tee off Wisconsin's second half counterpunch with eight points in a three-minute span. Ben Brust chipped in five as the Badgers went from trailing by six and fading away to taking a one point lead that they wouldn’t relinquish until the final minute.

4) Marcus Lee is Kentucky’s Johnny Come lately, but Alex Poythress has been in hiding for much of his sophomore season. Wisconsin felt him on Saturday night.

However, after getting his leg rolled on during a postgame celebration pileup, the Wildcats’ may be without their only veteran contributor. His loss could be mitigated if Willie Cauley-Stein returns for the national championship game. From the sound of Poythress after the game, it sounds like the springs in his knees and calves be fine by Monday night.

5) Aaron Harrison is making it even more difficult to tell the twins apart. It’s bad enough their fraternal twins, but Harrison was dishing the rock like he was the distributor instead of the perimeter shooting assassin early on. He threw one lob to Marcus Lee that resulted in a boom felt through the AT&T Center nosebleeds.

6) Who knows how last year’s Kentucky team would have jelled if Nerlens Noel hadn’t torn the ACL in his left knee?

7) We’ll all remember “the shot”, but Kentucky actually held a +23 advantage in points scored in the paint and snagged twice as many offensive boards. For the first time since the SEC Championship, Julius Randle didn't record a double-double. He came up five rebounds short. Luckily, he won't be facing the Gators again in the title game.

8) Final Four appearances are usually followed by resolute vows to return. Florida will reload as Wilbekin, Patric Young, Will Yeguette, Casey Prather all graduate. Kasey Hill, Michael Frazier and Chris Walker will take on more substantial roles next season and be joined by transfer Alex Murphy and former Rutgers transfer Eli Carter who missed the season rehabbing a leg injury. That’s too many variable to consider them a championship heavyweight. Napier’s graduation from UConn sets the Huskies back next season and Kentucky’s complete cartridge reload can go either way.

On the other hand, Wisconsin expects everyone back from this special group except for senior Ben Brust. This season was not a fluke for Wisconsin and once Bronson Koenig, who scored 11 in 20 minutes, assumes Brust’s starting position next fall the Badgers shouldn’t skip a beat and may actually take a few paces forward.

9) By far, the most hilarious announcing moment of the night belonged to Greg Anthony attempting to wade through the murky, unspoken racial stereotypes explain how weird it was to express his belief that Wisconsin was quicker than Kentucky. Let’s be real, Wisconsin’s roster looks like they bond away from the court over hours and hours of hacky sack tournaments in the quad. If only Anthony were allowed to be as frank as uh… Frank Kaminsky who replied to a question about how Arizona would describe the Badgers with two words, “white guys”.

10) Drake is the contemporary Uncle Luke analogue.

Geez, how many championship celebrations has Drake infiltrated? First it was the Heat, now Kentucky. You should only be surprised I you’re not paying attention. Drake is becoming a wholesome version of The U's Uncle Luke to Kentucky basketball. In case you’re confused, Drake has performed at Big Blue Midnight Madness in 2009, received a personalized 2012 national championship, Calipari attended his high school graduation and Drake narrated a Kentucky documentary, so he’s been around for a hot minute by now. However, Drake is the Blake Griffin of hip-hop, which means somebody had to throw some shade on him knowing he wouldn’t bark back.


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