Date story published: Friday, March 16, 2001
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Like a play that's been tested on the road and judged ready for Broadway, Tayshaun Prince debuted in the Big Apple (well, Long Island) yesterday.
His performance earned bravos.
Kentucky's main man, college basketball's greatest stage and the post-season's most irresistible storyline converged gloriously.
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With no NCAA Tournament victory since 1953, Holy Cross played the lovable underdog.
That left the heavy role for Kentucky, the college game's winningest program.
With the game tied, barely six minutes on the clock and a crowd pulling for Holy Cross, Prince donned his hero garb. Back-to-back three-point baskets were his moving soliloquy. Two left-handed flip shots were his dramatic gestures.
In essence, Prince answered the question of whether Kentucky was to be or not to be in the NCAA Tournament beyond the first round. He carried the Cats to a 72-68 victory.
Prince's moment in the spotlight came after Holy Cross erased UK's only double-digit lead of the game, knotting the score at 58-58 with 6:28 left.
Drama and poignancy drenched the Nassau Coliseum as the teams went to their benches for a television timeout.
"We were having a blast when we tied it up," said forward Jared Curry, whose four second-half three-pointers kept Holy Cross close. "It was the best time of our lives."
Dreams of conquest filled the Holy Cross players' heads.
"Without a doubt, there was a thought through the whole team's mind: We can win this game," forward Tim Szatko said. "We want to make history."
On the other bench, Kentucky appealed to Prince for another type of history.
"The main thing was, we had to knock some momentum out of them," UK guard Keith Bogans said, "get the crowd to hush up a little bit."
Bogans, who scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half to once more ably assist Prince, turned to -- who else? -- Prince.
"I told Tay, 'Man, we've got to pick it up,'" Bogans said. "That's exactly what he did. He made the big shots like he always does."
Prince gave Kentucky the lead for good by hitting a three-pointer from the left side over Holy Cross forward Juan Pegues.
Then, after a Bogans steal, Prince hit a three-pointer from the right side in transition.
"No doubt," Prince said of his clutch treys. "I knew they were falling as soon as I let them go.
"That's a good thing to do," he said of his back-to-back threes. "When you hit one, come down and shoot again, especially if you're wide open like I was on the second one."
Holy Cross Coach Ralph Willard, the former UK assistant, had to swallow his one disappointment in the game.
"We said we weren't going to let Tayshaun Prince shoot threes," Willard said. "And I thought we did a great job of that. But then in the last six minutes, then he makes that ball-fake (against Pegues) and makes that three. Then ... we lose him in transition."
To its credit, Holy Cross continued battling after Prince hit the threes, what Szatko called "incredible shots."
"Almost back-breakers," Szatko said. "But we overcame them."
When the Crusaders closed within 64-60, Prince flipped in a five-footer off an inbounds pass.
When Szatko's three-pointer reduced the lead to 68-65 with 1:20 left, UK turned again to Prince. After a timeout, Prince dribbled out the bulk of the shot clock near midcourt. Then he went one-on-one against Szatko.
"I kept saying 'I can't let him shoot the ball,'" Szatko said. "Then he made an incredible crossover (dribble) and ..." And Prince drove and flipped in a running 10-footer that sealed the victory with 21.8 seconds left.
The shot capped a final six minutes that made something reserve guard J.P. Blevins said the day before sound prophetic. Kentucky, Blevins said, would go as far in the NCAA Tournament as "2-1" took it.
"He's been doing it all year," Blevins said. "He says, 'Get on my back and let's go. Hop on.'"
Prince, as quiet and unassuming off the court as he is bold and powerful on it, did not voice such a declaration with the game on the line.
"He didn't literally say that," Blevins said. "But when you step out and shoot a three from NBA range with a guy in your face with the game tied, that's pretty much what you're saying. If you can't tell that shot means 'Get on my back,' then I don't know what else does. He leads by example."
The consolation for Holy Cross was a memorable effort that tied the score at 58-58 and set for stage for Prince.
"It's what the NCAA Tournament's all about," Curry said. "I looked across the court and saw my dad jumping around and going crazy. My mom and my brother and sister. That image in my mind will never go away.
"But," he added, "neither will the loss."