Basketball doesn't get much bigger anywhere than it does in Lexington, Kentucky. As center Josh Harrellson (pictured) noted, the Wildcats play in front of sellouts of 24,000 in Rupp Arena. But the NCAA record crowd of 75,421 for the national semifinals Saturday night in Reliant Stadium was three times that size.
As a result, even members of a big-time program like Kentucky's can be taken aback. The Wildcats shot only 28.1 percent in the first half and made just 2 of 12 three-pointers to fall behind by 10 points. Although they came back to lead midway through the second half, it was an uphill battle all night on the way to a 56-55 loss to Connecticut.
"I just think everybody was a little nervous," Harrellson said. Nobody on our team has ever been this far [to the Final Four]. I think we came out tight in the first half…It started just after the tip. I guess we weren't expecting everything that goes with the Final Four, all the pressure and everything. We just came out and let it get to us."
The Wildcats played much better in the second half, but in the final 7:17, they shot 1 for 10 before Brandon Knight hit a meaningless three-pointer at the buzzer for the final one-point margin.
"We were tight in the first half," coach John Calipari agreed. "Our veterans [Harrellson, De Andre Liggins and Darius Miller] were 1 for 12. We still had a chance to win the game. We had our chances. But we were a little tight. Give Connecticut credit. They defended us. They were physical. They blocked some shots down the stretch that were killers for us."