Kentucky's Brandon Knight (12) cheers as his team pulls ahead of West Virginia during the final minutes of the second half in a third-round East regional NCAA tournament college basketball game in Tampa, Fla., Saturday March 19, 2011. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky freshman Brandon Knight has spent
all season trying to live up to the high expectations that come
with playing point guard for John Calipari.
The expectations don't come from Calipari, but from Knight
The straight-A student is well aware everything he does will be
compared to the other electric playmakers who have directed
Calipari's sometimes freewheeling dribble-drive offense, a list
that includes current NBA stars Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John
"A lot of people say it's pressure, I look at is as exciting,"
Knight said. "That's why I'm here."
Though Knight lacks Wall's speed, Evans' size and Rose's gift
for squeezing into tight spaces, Calipari says his latest point
guard protege makes up for it in sheer tenacity.
"All the players I've coached, and I had guys that would live
in the practice facility, literally, I've never seen a guy with
this kid's work ethic," Calipari said. "His focus is on 'where
are my weak areas?' And he goes after them."
It's the only way Knight knows.
And it's why he's been able to do something Wall or Rose never
accomplished during their brief college careers: Score 30 points in
an NCAA tournament victory.
Knight's performance helped the fourth-seeded Wildcats (27-8)
surge past West Virginia last Saturday and into the NCAA tournament
regional semifinals. Kentucky faces top-seeded Ohio State (34-2) in
Newark, N.J., on Friday.
It's a destination that appeared iffy at best during a rocky
The Wildcats struggled when things got tight in January and
February, Knight in particular.
Several times he had the ball in his hands and a chance to tie
or win the game only to watch his final shot clang off the rim.
It happened at Florida. It happened at Arkansas, twice, once in
regulation and again in overtime.
Knight remained undaunted, however, thanks to a mental toughness
and a case of selective memory. When he misses a game-winner, he
lets it go. To Knight, worrying about what might have been is
It's why Calipari didn't hesitate when Kentucky found itself
tied with Princeton in the final seconds of their second-round game
last week. He put the ball in Knight's hands even though Knight had
missed all seven of his field-goal attempts to that point.
"Everybody says, 'why would you give him the ball when he
didn't make a shot?"' Calipari said. "Because I knew he expected
to make the last one and you have to give it to him. He's not
afraid to miss the last shot."
Knight never hesitated, hitting a difficult runner that gave
Kentucky a 59-57 victory and Knight a much-needed confidence boost.
The normally unflappable Knight admitted feeling some
"anxiety" before the Wildcats played the Mountaineers, who
unceremoniously ended Wall's college career with a victory in last
year's NCAA regional final.
Knight hardly looked nervous while shredding West Virginia's
normally airtight defense. His 16 first-half points helped Kentucky
stay close and his seven free throws in the game's final 61 seconds
pushed the Wildcats into the regional semifinals for the second
time in as many seasons under Calipari.
As usual, Knight deflected the praise.
"My teammates continued to have faith in me even though I
didn't play such a great game" against Princeton, he said.
Maybe it's because his teammates, like his coach, knew he would
"If you're a hard worker and you spend the time, you expect
good things to happen," Calipari said.
And good things happen for the Wildcats when Knight is
assertive. Kentucky is 10-3 when he scores at least 20 points.
"It looks like he's really grown into just a tremendous
basketball player," said Ohio State coach Thad Matta. "He can do
a lot of different things out there."
The Wildcats have needed every last bit of Knight's versatility.
He doesn't have the luxury Wall enjoyed last year of playing
alongside four other NBA first-round draft picks.
Kentucky needs Knight to take control with both his shotmaking
and his mouth. It's a role he is still learning how to fill.
When teammate Terrence Jones ran a play incorrectly against West
Virginia, Knight turned to Calipari looking for his coach to
correct Jones. Calipari told Knight to do it himself.
"I said, 'you tell him. Why are you telling me to tell him?
You're out there with him, you tell him," Calipari said. "And
they love each other so there's no big deal about it, and they can
laugh about it later, but that's what a good team can do."
One that's getting better thanks to the blossoming play of
Calipari's latest point guard.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)