For most of today's NCAA tournament opener, Kentucky played keep away with Holy Cross, tantalizing the gallant Crusaders before beating them 72-68.
When Holy Cross tied the score at 58 with a 14-4 run with 6:28 to play, Kentucky went to the safest strategy.
The Wildcats gave the ball to Tayshaun Prince.
Prince hit consecutive 3-pointers inside of a minute to restore a six-point lead for Kentucky.
"We showed poise down the stretch," the 6-foot-9 junior said. "When they tied the game up, the guys looked at me to make some things happen. I knocked a shot down."
Prince Goes 10-for-17
Prince scored 12 of his team's final 14 points. But the Wildcats never shook off gallant Holy Cross and it was still a 3-point game at 68-65 with about a minute left.
Then Prince dribbled away all but three seconds of the 35-second shot clock before scoring to make it 70-65. Ryan Serravalle of Holy Cross hit a 3-pointer, but then the Crusaders fouled Prince.
He hit two free throws with 7.2 seconds remaining to seal the victory for the Southeastern Conference champions.
Prince finished with 27 points, hitting 10 of 17 from the field. Keith Bogans scored 17 and Jason Parker 10 for Kentucky (23-9), which will play Iowa in the second round. The Hawkeyes beat Creighton 69-56.
Kentucky’s Go-To Guy
Giving the ball to Prince was a no-brainer for coach Tubby Smith.
"Even in high school, Tayshaun had the ability to focus and take the game over," he said. "He's been a go-to guy for a long time. Tayshaun has done it for us a number of times."
"We never thought they'd beat us," Bogans said. "If you do, that's when you'll go home."
Holy Cross had other ideas. For a long time, it appeared the Patriot League champions might pull an upset.
After trailing 36-27 at the half, they came out firing 3-pointers, and narrowed the gap. Jared Curry hit two 3s after Tim Szatko opened the second half with one, and suddenly, it was a two-point game.
Curry, who also had consecutive 3s in the run that tied the score, led Holy Cross (22-8) with 16 points, while Josh Sankes scored 13 and grabbed 10 rebounds. Tim Szatko had 11 and Serravalle scored 10.
Coach Ralph Willard had the Crusaders convinced this was a winnable game.
"I told them at out pregame meal that if we did certain things, I thought we had the opportunity to win," he said. "We did most of them. As good as Kentucky has been playing, if we take away offensive rebounding and transition opportunities, we have a chance."
With Sankes anchored under the basket, Holy Cross gave it a run. There was plenty of physical play underneath and the 7-footer said, "The play inside was like a WWF match."
Holy Cross was not intimidated by Kentucky.
"We came to win," Curry said. "We're disappointed we lost."
The Crusaders knew their situation — underdogs against a major conference champion.
"We were saying before the game, 'Let's shock the world,"' Szatko said. "And we almost did. Maybe being this close, we did shock the world."
In the first half, Kentucky went on runs of 9-0 and 8-0 and finished the half with a 10-4 burst to lead 36-27. The Wildcats never could shake Holy Cross, though, until the end.