Let it be known that the 16th-seeded Hampton Pirates led the best team in the country for 29 intoxicating seconds Thursday.
Not three minutes into this second-round NCAA tournament game, Kentucky, the No. 1 overall seed and prohibitive tournament favorite, was trailing, 4-3.
Never before has a No. 16 seed beaten a No. 1 seed, and despite the start, this game was one of the least likely ever to provide the first. Kentucky was a perfect 34-0 in the regular season and has a stable of future NBA players. The Wildcats' starting lineup had 28 inches and 144 pounds on the Pirates'.
Sure enough, Kentucky won, 79-56, and the Earth kept on rotating. The margin, at least, was smaller than in Kentucky's 39-point win over UCLA this season.
Hampton played about as well as it could have hoped in the first half. With less than seven minutes remaining in the period, its deficit was in single digits.
Kentucky finished the half with a quiet 18-8 run, and with a 19-point halftime lead, the game was as good as over.
The second half, however, was not without its hairy moments. With eight minutes left, Willie Cauley-Stein missed a layup. Kentucky Coach John Calipari stamped his feet, turned to an assistant and asked, “Are you watching this?” Fans were growing restless.
The Wildcats' lead was 32.
“That was a good win,” Calipari said. “I did not really like the way we started the game and I did not really like the way we ended it.”
“It won't happen again,” guard Andrew Harrison said.
Karl-Anthony Towns led Kentucky with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Quinton Chievous had 22 points for Hampton.
The Pirates knew this would be a tall task. After Hampton beat Manhattan in the first round, setting up the meeting with Kentucky, Hampton Coach Edward Joyner pretended to pick up a phone. “Hello?” he said.
He said he was trying to call Jesus. When the Pirates arrived in Louisville, he said he got a response.
“Actually,” Joyner said, “he sent me an email and said go ahead and prepare.”
Alas, there would be no miracle.