PHILADELPHIA — Asked earlier this week to describe the similarities between himself and Massachusetts Coach John Calipari, Kentucky's Rick Pitino groped for an answer.
"We're both Italian with big noses," Pitino offered. "Outside of that, there are very few similarities. Coaching . . . the styles of play--the difference is night and day."
Another item can be added: Kentucky is one game away from the Final Four and Massachusetts, 87-77 losers to the Wildcats Thursday night at the East Regional semifinal, are not. The Minutemen's wonderfully unexpected season has come to end.
Equally unexpected, at least for a stunned Calipari, was a crucial technical foul assessed against him by referee Lennie Wirtz. With the score 70-68 and 5:47 remaining in the game, Wirtz noticed that the emotional Calipari had wandered out of the coaching box--grounds for a technical under normal circumstances.
But for Massachusetts (30-5), which trailed by as many as 21 points in the first half, it was a pivotal call. After the technical, Kentucky went on an 11-2 run and barely glanced back.
Calipari, who apparently ventured across the line earlier in the game, said he was never warned by any official to stay put. So when the key call came, Calipari was understandably speechless.
"The whole game is coming down to that call," Calipari said, "and that's not right. The official had the right to make that call. . . . I wish he wouldn't have."
Pitino didn't deny that the technical hurt Massachusetts' late drive, but added: "I think we would have won. But I always think that way anyway."
Pitino could afford the mind-set, mostly because of sophomore forward Jamal Mashburn, who did more damage than Wirtz.
Mashburn, whose name was spelled, "Mashbum" on the starting lineup sheets, was anything but worthless. He finished with 30 points and only missed four of his 15 shots. No wonder Kentucky (29-6), known more for its love of three-pointers, shot 55.9% for the game.