Today THE Ohio State University proved its indifference to basketball by firing its winningest coach in the middle of June. I could understand fatigue with complacency under Thad Matta over the last two years, but terminating Matta right before July recruiting season and long after big coaching names made moves is a terrible decision.
Whatever you think of athletic director Gene Smith’s decision, it immediately made me think of Kentucky’s 2011 Sweet 16 matchup with Ohio State. The No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Buckeyes returned many from a talented 2010 Sweet 16 team– William Buford, Jon Diebler, David Lighty — and added Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft. The Big 10 Champs only lost twice, on the road to Purdue and Wisconsin.
Few gave the Cats a chance. They needed a Brandon Knight buzzer-beater to defeat Princeton in the opening round and had to fight to defeat West Virginia in the second round. Jorts was no match for Sullinger inside…until he saved a pass from out of bounds by throwing it off Sullinger’s chest.
Josh Harrellson did not stop Sullinger, who had 21 points and 16 rebounds, but Jorts did neutralize the big man by posting a 17 point, 10 rebound double-double. DeAndre Liggins’ defense was much more meaningful than his 15 points. Brandon Knight struggled throughout the game, turning it over 6 times and scoring only 9 points, but he made the final two that mattered.
The SportsCenter highlights from 2011:
If that wasn’t enough to tickle your fancy, feel free to watch the entire game (it begins in the final 1:30, but you’ll have to start from the beginning to see Jorts throw the ball off Sullinger’s chest).
People forget this game, yet it’s one of the most satisfying of my lifetime. Matta’s face was easy to hate; Sullinger and Craft were easier to hate. More importantly, Kentucky won a close, back-and-forth game by making clutch plays down the stretch.
Even though it didn’t send the Cats to Final Four (yet), it helped me forget about the brutal 2005 Elite Eight loss to Michigan State, and for that I say, “Thank you, Mr. Matta. It’s been a pleasure.”