TAMPA, Fla. — Kentucky's leading scorer, freshman Brandon Knight, hadn't made a shot the whole game. Now, with the team's NCAA Tournament life in his hands, he had to try to score against the Ivy League's Defensive Player of the Year.
Knight succeeded, giving UK a 59-57 victory Thursday over Princeton and a date Saturday against last year's post-season nemesis, West Virginia, in the next round.
"Kind of like a Hollywood ending for them," Princeton Coach Sydney Johnson said of this convergence of story elements. "Not so much for Princeton."
Knight, who had scored double-digit points in 28 straight games, missed his seven earlier shots, several badly. That made him 14 for his last 47 as the clock ticked inside the final 10 seconds and he began his move.
A Darius Miller screen rubbed out Knight's defender. But Kareem Maddox switched onto Knight.
"I wouldn't have anyone else on him besides Kareem," Johnson said.
Kentucky placed great faith in Knight.
"He's one of the best shooters I've seen," Miller said. "So he's not going to continue to miss. We're not worried about that at all."
UK Coach John Calipari called for a pick and roll with Miller, the team's hottest offensive player, setting a screen. That left Princeton with the task of containing Kentucky's leading scorer for the season and/or its leading scorer Thursday (17 points).
"It was just a pick and roll, and see what we could get out of it," Knight said.
Princeton surprised Kentucky by switching on defense, leaving Maddox on Knight.
"Darius had been hot," Knight said. "I felt like they shaded to him a little bit. I just took it. ...
"What I saw was, I had a bigger guy on me. I thought he'd have a good chance of contesting (a jump shot). I wanted to try to get by him and see if I could finish around the rim."
Maddox, who at 6-foot-8 is five inches taller than Knight, regretted his attempt to guard Knight.
"He went right," Maddox said, "and he wasn't supposed to do that."
Maddox was supposed to make Knight dribble to his left. Of his failure, Maddox said, "I'm sure I'll regret it the rest of my life."
Knight, whose previous low point total this season was six against Connecticut, had a simple objective that goes to the heart of Calipari's dribble-drive offense.
"I had a big guy on me," Knight said. "I thought I had a good chance of going by him. Once I got by him, I just wanted to make sure I got it high off the glass. I didn't want to settle (for a jumper) in that situation."
About a minute earlier, with UK nursing a 57-55 lead, Knight missed badly from the right elbow.
When asked whether the miss reflected shaky self-confidence, Knight said, "No, it wasn't shaky." He missed, he added, "because I got hit on my elbow. My confidence would never waver from missing a shot, anyway."
He proved it with two seconds left by making the game-winner, which improved Kentucky's record to 26-8.
Princeton (25-7) tied it with 37.9 seconds left when leading scorer Dan Mavraides (14 points) hit a 15-foot fade-away over UK's defensive ace, DeAndre Liggins.
A three-pointer by Liggins — his only shot of the first half — with 21.6 seconds left gave Kentucky a 34-33 lead at intermission.
The game's first three minutes suggested an easy advancement for Kentucky. Princeton missed its first five shots as UK zipped to an 11-2 lead.
"There was no lack of belief there," Johnson said of his veteran Princeton team. "Eleven-two was just a moment in time."
Then something funny happened on UK's way to Saturday's game in the St. Pete Times Forum. Maddox entered the game for Princeton, and the Tigers rallied.
Maddox scored back-to-back baskets to steady Princeton. The Tigers slowly chipped away as Miller cooled and Knight failed to ignite.
UK's point guard did not take a shot until the 8:11 mark. Then he bricked a shot from near the foul line and finished the half scoreless.
"I just wanted to make sure I started the game running the team," Knight said of keeping his gun holstered. "Making sure I got guys involved."
More than once, Calipari sat Knight, most memorably in the final minute after Knight missed from the elbow to keep the Kentucky lead at 57-55.
"I was subbing him late, not anything to do with offense," Calipari said. "I just wanted a longer team out there."
Knight re-entered the game when UK called time with 34 seconds left.
"I work hard to be put in situations like that," Knight said. "I don't have a problem missing those shots. Whether I miss 20 (shots), I still have confidence to take the next one."