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Well-schooled Knight saving the day for Calipari

The first five minutes worth of questions Brandon Knight confronted had little to do with him. Everyone kept asking whether he was as aggressive as Derrick Rose, can score like Tyreke Evans or is as athletic as John Wall.

To play point guard under Kentucky's John Calipari is to live through a career of comparisons. Calipari is to the point guard position what Jim Boeheim is to the swingman and what John Wooden was to post players.

Rose begat Evans who begat Wall who begat Knight, a freshman from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and the latest in Calipari's point-guard lineage. Even before late Friday night, people knew of Knight's ability, knew he is made of the stuff necessary to be -- not play point guard for Calipari.

The test is cumulative, season long, and against No. 1 seeded Ohio State in the East Regional semifinal, Knight added to his legend. His final shot of the night lifted the Wildcats into today's Elite Eight matchup against North Carolina. As soon as Knight's shot went up, teammate Terrence Jones searched for his man on defense because, "I knew it was going in."

To be sure, there is pressure on Knight, not just from the expectations created with his performances, but just from playing the position for Calipari.

Knight is smart enough not to deny there is pressure to acknowledge and deal with. Throw in Dajuan Wagner from his early days at Memphis, and four of Calipari's point guards have been selected in the NBA's Lottery and Rose and Wall were No. 1 overall selections. Inescapable history.

"I look at how they ran the team, not necessarily how they did and put it into my game but things they did to control the game," Knight said. "I try to figure out how to do that myself. With Derrick, [Calipari] wanted him to be more aggressive so that's a little bit different from me because I came in being aggressive and shooting the basketball so coach had to direct me in different ways."

Calipari needed Knight to become more of a distributor which was challenging because he's a natural, undaunted scorer. Knight scored over 3,500 points in high school and is second on Florida's prep basketball scoring list.

"He wanted to make sure I ran the team and not shoot every shot," Knight said. "Each [point guard] is different. Each player comes in with different habits and coach is great at figuring out what a guy needs to do to fit best."

Knight, from all indications, is dealing with the pressure successfully. He is 6-foot-3 and a thread-the-needle passer with the obligatory quickness to blow by most defenders.

Calipari said, "He is one of the most conscientious, hard-working players that I have been around. Will be in the gym at 11 at night. Will be in the training room icing his knees or his legs at six in the morning."

Academically Knight, who strongly considered attending Yale University, earned all A's during his first semester of college and his lowest grade was a 91 in sociology.

"And he got mad," Calipari said. "Still got an A and he got mad."

Seeking perfection is part of the Knight package. So is playing without fear. Ohio State's Aaron Craft harassed Knight for most of Friday's game and the freshman clanked seven of his first nine shots.

"Didn't really affect me," Knight said.

Not in the least. The Buckeyes' Jon Diebler hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 60 with 21 seconds remaining, but instead of calling a timeout, Calipari put his trust in Knight. He drove right and even with Craft wrapped around him like a stripe on a candy cane, Knight canned the winner from 15 feet out.

He did the same thing in the Wildcats win over Princeton, so when it comes to taking -- and making winning shots -- he's the Dark Knight for opponents. But Knight doesn't always save the day.

"Early in this season I had a chance to win the game against Florida, I missed it," he said. "I had a chance to win the game against Arkansas and I missed it. So it is just something that you kind of you live and die with."

Calipari reminded Knight he missed one against Alabama, too, and he laughed and shrugged his shoulders. It happens.

"He is not afraid to miss it," Calipari said. "If you really want to be that guy, you have no fear if I miss this shot, I miss it. I am not afraid to miss this shot. Life will not end."

If he makes more big shots, Kentucky's season won't end today, either.

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com