Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Sports

Free throw misses hurt Kentucky

ARLINGTON, Texas — Another team coached by John Calipari was done in at the line.

After shooting free throws well much of the season, Kentucky wilted when it mattered most in Monday night's NCAA final.

Kentucky was 13-of-24 from the line, including missing its final three attempts when the game was still hanging in the balance. The last of them, a miss by Alex Poythress, would have cut the Wildcats' deficit against UConn to 56-53 with 3:47 left.

Their free-throw struggles brought back memories of the 2008 title game, when a Memphis team coached by Calipari struggled down the stretch against Kansas.

In that game, the Jayhawks trailed late and started fouling the poor-shooting Tigers. Memphis missed four of its final five free throws as Kansas rallied to win.

James Young was 8-of-9 from the line for Kentucky and finished with 20 points. But the rest of the team was 5-for-15, including Julius Randle (4-of-7) and Dakari Johnson (1-of-4).

Their best free-throw shooters, Aaron and Andrew Harrison, got to the line once — and Aaron missed.

The Wildcats shot 68 percent from the line for the season and had only shot worse than they did Monday three times. Asked whether that decided the game, Aaron replied, "Maybe so."

Irrelevant seeds: The championship game was the first between a No. 7 seed and a No. 8, but some experts said the changing college basketball landscape has rendered tournament seeding much less important. "I think it's irrelevant now because I think it's hard to evaluate realistically how good a team is," said John Thompson, former longtime Georgetown coach and now an analyst with Westwood One Sports Radio. "You can't just statistically look at a group of people and say that this is the best team any more. You have to have some knowledge of the development, particularly the young teams. Young teams develop, as Kentucky did. Young teams develop as they go along."

To stay or go? One of the biggest issues surrounding Florida's team is the status of freshman F/C Chris Walker.

Walker missed the first three months of the season because of NCAA rules violations that occurred before his arrival in Gainesville. He played his first game on Feb. 4 vs. Missouri and ultimately played just 87 minutes all season. Yet, he's projected by some as a first-round NBA pick.

ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale, who covered numerous Gators games this season and saw Walker in person, said it would be a mistake for him to leave.

"He'll be sitting on the bench," Vitale said. "And I'll tell you what he ought to take a look at: You can play yourself out of the league after three years and be a nobody (like) the kid that went to Kentucky — Daniel Orton. Someone will take him in the first round and he'll sit the bench, and that's sad. He's not ready."

Orton did little after he was the Magic's first-round pick in 2010.

Times staff writer Antonya English contributed to this report.

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