Kentucky's Tayshaun Prince (21) works his way inside against a Tulsa defender. Prince scored a career-high 41 points in leading the Wildcats to an 87-82 win over the Golden Hurricane. (AP Photo)
ST. LOUIS --- Where the Goose was once golden, a Prince was almost greater.
Taking a cue from Jack "Goose" Givens' legendary performance here in the 1978 national championship game, Tayshaun Prince matched that effort by pouring in 41 points Saturday to lead Kentucky to an 87-82 victory over Tulsa in the second round of the East Regional.
Tayshaun Prince (21) battles inside for two of his 41 points. (AP Photo).
Like Givens, a sweet-shooting senior left-hander wearing jersey No. 21, Prince was 14-of-21 from the field, 7-for-9 at the line and made six of eight 3-point shots to become only the 11th player in UK's storied basketball history to reach the 40-point plateau. He also had nine rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots and no turnovers in one of the all-time best postseason performances by a Wildcat.
Said Kentucky coach Tubby Smith: "It was spectacular."
"I should have had one more rebound," Prince joked. "Should have had the double-double."
Kentucky (22-9), seeded No. 4, advances to the NCAA's Sweet 16 for the fourth time in the last five years. The Cats will face the winner of Sunday's Maryland-Wisconsin game next Friday in Syracuse, N.Y.
Twelfth-seeded Tulsa (27-7), who made it to the second round by upsetting Marquette on Thursday, faced a matchup nightmare in Prince and never had any answers for his assortment of inside-outside moves.
"It got to the point where I was just shaking my head," Tulsa guard Greg Harrington said. "We tried to find a way to stop him, but nothing worked."
"He hit a 3 that was ridiculously long," Tulsa coach John Phillips said of a Prince 3-pointer at the buzzer which gave UK a 43-42 lead going into the half. "If you make one from 25 feet, it's your night."
Had the Golden Hurricane found even a couple of defense stops late in the game, they had an opportunity to pull the upset. Despite the monster effort by Prince and 19 points by junior guard Keith Bogans, Tulsa never trailed by more than 11 and hung within three inside the final minute of play.
Harrington's 3-pointer made it 82-80 with 57 seconds left, but Kentucky made six of its last eight free throws to seal the victory. That stretch included four straight by Prince to help the Cats finish 21 for 29 on the night.
Kentucky point guard Cliff Hawkins (1) directed an offensive attack that featured 19 assists and only seven turnovers. (AllSport Photo)
Execution was key throughout for Kentucky, which had one of its best offensive nights of the season. The Cats shot 44 percent (28 of 63) from the field, but even more importantly 10 for 19 from beyond the 3-point arc. They also dished out 19 assists and committed only seven turnovers.
Kentucky played turnover-free basketball the final 10 minutes of the game.
"I thought we finished the game right," Smith said. "We hit some clutch shots and really took care of the ball."
Tulsa was nearly as good, shooting 51 percent from the field and draining nine of 20 from long range. It was the first team this season to shoot better than 50 percent from the field and lose to Kentucky.
Antonio Reed and Kevin Johnson each had 18 points to lead Tulsa. Harrington followed with 14. But the Golden Hurricane could never regain the lead after going up 45-43 at the 19:40 mark of the second half.
The Cats entered St. Louis with a high degree of skepticism following a series of off-the-court problems and disappointing losses this year, but now seemed poised for a deep run.
"We talked about wiping the slate clean, forgetting the past," Smith said. "That's what we've done."
"I know a lot of people have been down on us, but we're here to show them we're not laying down," UK senior guard J.P. Blevins said. "We want to make this a magical run."
Tubby Smith has guided seven of his 11 teams to the Sweet 16, including four of the last five at UK. (AP Photo)