Much has been made of Kentucky's seemingly unstoppable starting lineup in 2011-12, but it's not just a combination Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague that continue to carry the Wildcats to victory.
Well, it is, kind of. But more so than offensive or defensive heroics, when they need a win, the Wildcats rely on their performances when the clock is stopped.
The top-seeded Wildcats are the 10th-best shooting team in the country. They are 15th best on the boards, and their 77.1 points per game are 20th best in the nation. What really matters is their success from the free-throw line where, as a team, they shoot about 73 percent.
It's not perfect, but it's enough to give them a definite edge.
The idea that Kentucky goes as its performance at the line goes isn't a myth—the team fully recognizes that when it succeeds from the charity stripe, the outcome of the game is bound to be good.
Last week, after Kentucky's 102-90 win over Indiana in the Sweet 16, sophomore guard Lamb told NBCSports.com's Mike Miller:
Today in the pregame, we all made our foul shots, so I knew today would be a great time for us making foul shots today, and we did today.
By Kentucky standards, the game was a battle—more of a battle than most of their games—and much of the Wildcats' success can be attributed to the fact that they made a whopping 35 of 37 free throws that day.
By comparison, Indiana went 13-of-17 from the line. Kentucky made more than double the free throws Indiana attempted.
Those 35 free throws were the most in an NCAA tournament game since Arizona made 43 in 2001, and it was the Wildcats' best performance at the line since 2006, with 30 or more attempts.
Facing one of the two teams that beat them in 2011-12, the Wildcats picked a good time to show their best stuff.
A few weeks ago, against Florida in the semifinals of the SEC tournament, the situation was similar: The game was a bit sloppy for the Wildcats—much sloppier than they expected it to be—and Kentucky knocked off the No. 19 Gators by a mere 74-71 margin.
For the most part, its offensive numbers were nothing special: 26-of-60 from the field, an ugly 5-of-17 from three-point range. From the line, however, the Wildcats made 15 of 20 attempts. If not for those free throws, the outcome of the entire SEC tournament may have been entirely different.
The teams that succeed in March Madness do the little things, something John Calipari's Wildcats are well aware of. The teams that succeed make their free throws—there's no excuse to miss them. Missing them demonstrates a lack of focus, a lack of preparation.
If there are two words that can describe the Wildcats this season, they are "focused" and "prepared," and by all indications, they'll prove it in the Final Four by continuing to do what they do best: winning. And sinking free throws.
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