HOUSTON – Brandon Knight had the ball and Kentucky's season in his hands.
Then the player who guided the Wildcats to their first Final Four in 13 years behind a series of gutsy game-winners did something unexpected: He gave it up.
Knight opted to pass to teammate DeAndre Liggins with the Wildcats trailing by two in the final seconds Saturday night against Connecticut. Liggins' 3-pointer, like so many of Kentucky's 62 shots, clanged harmlessly off the rim and the Huskies escaped with a 56-55 victory.
"I thought it was going in," Knight said. "I had confidence in him."
And maybe not so much confidence in himself.
Knight missed all the big shots and most of the little ones too, finishing with 17 points on 6-of-23 shooting, including a series of jumpers that fell woefully short in the second half. He finally made a desperation 3-pointer when the clock hit zero, by it couldn't erase Connecticut's four-point lead. The Huskies will play Butler for the national championship.
"There's some anxiety that goes along with this game and that may have gotten to him a little bit," Kentucky coach John Calipari said, "because I can't remember one or two games where the last three minutes he wasn't at his best."
Then again, his teammates weren't much better.
Though fellow freshmen Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones woke up from a somewhat sleepy NCAA tournament to help Kentucky rally from a 10-point halftime deficit, the veterans who had stepped up in the postseason struggled.
Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson combined for just 14 points.
"I just think everybody was a little nervous," Harrellson said. "Nobody on our team has been this far."
The typically unflappable Knight tried to pick up the slack all by himself.
The burden proved to be too heavy.
It marked a humbling end to a breakout season for Knight, who played so brilliantly during March. He hit the winning shot in the second round against Princeton, then did it again in the regional semifinals against overall No. 1 seed Ohio State.
Knight simply didn't have it against the Huskies. He missed his first four shots — including a rare airball — and never seemed comfortable shooting in cavernous Reliant Stadium.
He refused to blame his poor performance on the venue, or the fact that he played 40 minutes against one of the best defensive teams in the country.
"I can't explain it," Knight said.
He trudged off the floor after his meaningless 3-pointer at the horn, and it's hardly a given he'll get another chance to win a national championship. His sometimes spectacular play had some comparing him to predecessor John Wall, who left for the NBA after just one season.
Though Knight can't match Wall for quickness, he's a better shooter and his guts earned him the respect of opposing coaches. UConn's Jim Calhoun called him the best freshman in the country on Friday, even though the Huskies' defense didn't let him look like it in front of the largest crowd in Final Four history.
Knight refused to discuss his future after the game. The present was too painful.
The cohesion that led the Wildcats to 10 straight wins evaporated as they reverted to the one-on-one play that plagued them through a sometimes bumpy regular season. Shots clanged off the rim at an alarming rate, if they hit the rim at all. During one foray to the basket, Miller drew contact and then flung the ball over the backboard.
Kentucky collected itself in the second half, erasing a 10-point deficit to briefly take the lead, then tying it at 48 on a jumper by Doron Lamb with 7:17 to go.
The Wildcats wouldn't make another basket for more than 5 minutes, missing seven straight shots, including four by Knight. Kentucky ended up shooting 34 percent from the field, numbers that were similar to last year's loss to West Virginia in the regional finals.
"It's a tough deal," Calipari said.
(This version CORRECTS Kentucky trailed by two instead of three during next to last possession.) Corrects to Kentucky trailing by two instead of three in 3rd graf.)