UK Men's Basketball

Liggins turns in monster game on both ends of the court

When it was over, DeAndre Liggins leaped atop a table on press row and popped outward the word 'Kentucky' on his blue jersey toward a delirious UK cheering section.

The sweetest, most significant University of Kentucky basketball victory since 1998 had just gone final Friday night in the Prudential Center and even allowing for the cold-blooded Brandon Knight's second game-winning shot of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, no UK player was more responsible than Liggins.

Make it Kentucky 62, Ohio State 60.

No, make that underdog Kentucky 62, No. 1 overall NCAA Tournament seed Ohio State 60.

This was a night stocked with Big Blue heroes. Knight came through in the clutch yet again, hitting from 16 feet with some five seconds left to provide the winning points just as he did against Prince ton in the round of 64.

UK big man Josh Harrellson (17 points, 10 rebounds) fought Ohio State star Jared Sullinger (21 points, 16 rebounds) to darned near a standoff.

Yet no one stood taller than Liggins.

"Brandon hit the shot, but DeAndre was really the guy who pulled us through," said Kentucky forward Terrence Jones.

Added UK reserve guard Jon Hood: "The best game I've ever seen 'Dre play."

Liggins final numbers were 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and three blocks.

This was basketball as hyper-intense, hand-to-hand combat. The 6-foot-6 junior from Chicago set the tone for Kentucky all night.

His suffocating defense on Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft hounded the freshman into an 0-for-5 night of shooting from the floor. With Craft enveloped by Liggins, the well-oiled Ohio State offense that had blitzkrieged through the Buckeyes' first two NCAA tourney games slipped a rod. OSU shot a frigid 19-for-58 from the floor. The team that had made 28-for-50 three-pointers in two tourney games settled for 6-for-16.

"It all started with DeAndre," UK forward Darius Miller said. "He takes more pride in his defense than anything. That's what he'd rather do than anything."

On this night, Liggins was every bit as valuable on the offensive end.

After David Lighty scored with 2:10 left to put OSU (34-3) ahead 57-56, Liggins had the answer.

Liggins drove the basketball at OSU's Jon Diebler. The 6-6 Ohio State senior could not stay in front of him.

On his drive, Liggins drew a foul from Sullinger at 1:36. Calmly, he stepped to the line and drained both free throws to put the Cats ahead 58-57.

After a stout defensive stand by Harrellson forced Sullinger to miss along the baseline, UK got the ball back. Kentucky Coach John Calipari called a timeout with 41.8 second left, 11 seconds on the shot clock.

The play UK called went again to Liggins, who drove straight through Diebler and got a sweet 6-foot bank shot to go and put the Cats up 60-57 with 36 seconds left.

"Diebler has trouble staying in front of people," Kentucky's Hood said. "We kept calling plays that sent DeAndre right at him."

Ohio State answered when Diebler drained a three-pointer from the top of the key with 21 seconds left. Knight then trumped that with his 16-footer with five seconds left.

William Buford had a good look at a possible game-winning trey just ahead of the buzzer, but it caromed off.

Kentucky had not beaten a No. 1 seed since Tubby Smith's No. 2-seeded Cats ousted No. 1 Duke in the finals of the 1998 South Regional. That game is also the most recent NCAA Tournament contest in which UK defeated a team seeded higher than it.

In terms of emotional satisfaction in modern UK lore, taking out Ohio State as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament ranks with the '98 "revenge over Laettner" victory over Duke and the 1975 upset of Bob Knight's undefeated and No. 1-ranked Indiana Hoosiers.

Of course, both those victories sent UK to the Final Four. In this instance, the Cats still must get past North Carolina in Sunday's East Regional finals to enter the college hoops promised land.

Said Liggins: "North Carolina is a good team. They've really progressed through the year."

Another effort from No. 34 like he gave Friday, and Kentucky just might end the longest Final Four drought in school history.

And Liggins might just end up on top of press row yet again.

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