"Anytime you lose a game at this stage of the tournament, that loss is going to be very disturbing," Smith said, "Michigan State made the plays they needed to make. My hat's off to them. I think their level of experience had something to do with it."
With under a minute to go and the Cats down by one point, Ravi Moss claims a rebound from a missed free throw and throws the long outlet to Ramel Bradley near midcourt. Bradley leaps high to catch the pass but is knocked hard to the floor by Michigan State's Alan Anderson. Bradley is unable to remain in the game so Tubby Smith assigns Patrick Sparks the duty of shooting Bradley's free throws.
Sparks, who iced Louisville with three straight free throws to win that game earlier this year, stepped to the line, "I really thought we were in pretty good shape there, "Smith said, "Patrick is a solid free throw shooter, a veteran player that has proven to be good in these situations. The two free throws would have put us ahead and allowed our defense to work." But Sparks missed the front end of the one and one and Kentucky missed a golden opportunity.
But Patrick would later redeem himself by hitting a clutch three pointer at the end of the game. Or did he? Officials reviewed the replay to see if Sparks' foot was on the line. At the end of regulation, was Smith worried about whether Patrick Sparks' desperation shot would be ruled a three pointer?
"Actually I couldn't see it for myself and did not see the replay," Smith said, "at that point it was beyond my control. So I just gather the team and began talking strategy for the overtime."
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said much the same, "I just told the players, get ready for five more minutes." The shot was indeed ruled a three pointer.
At the beginning of the first overtime, Kentucky jumped out to a four point lead, and senior Chuck Hayes thought the Cats might take control then and there, "Randolph (Morris) hit that first jumper then Kelenna followed with two free throws and I thought we were looking pretty good," Chuck said, "they (Michigan State) seemed a little out of sorts. But you have to hand it to them. They are a veteran team and they didn't get rattled. That is where experience comes in."
At the end of the first overtime, Kentucky had the last possession with the game tied, but failed to get shot off, "We wanted Rajon to attack the basket and take it inside. But they defended well. He handed it off to Kelenna (Azubuike). We had hoped he would have just taken it up and shot it, but he didn't."
This opportunity was perhaps Kentucky's best shot to win the game, "There were several options for Rajon. He could have attacked the basket and taken the shot or drew the foul. Rajon probably held the ball too long before dumping it to Kelenna. There wasn't really time for Kelenna to really create space. If Kelenna had just gone up, he could have scored. He could have drawn a foul. We could have gotten an offensive rebound. The very worst thing happened. We got no shot off at all."
But rather than dwell on what could have been, coach Smith seemed more focused on the future, "Michigan State made the plays they needed to make," Smith concluded, "They were experienced and their veteran players came out and got the job done. We missed a number of opportunities. But a lot of our kids will be smarter and more experienced next year. We are a young team and I am proud of what they accomplished."