PHILADELPHIA -- Kentucky needed something to get its second wind, to hold off an oncoming express train in ugly red uniforms. The Wildcats had watched their early 21-point lead evaporate, and Massachusetts was charging hard, trailing by two with a little less than six minutes left.
That's when Lennie Wirtz, who was officiating basketball games before John Calipari was born, stepped in and stopped the Minutemen cold. He called a controversial technical against the Massachusetts coach, and Kentucky was able to breathe again.
Starting with the technical on Calipari -- Wirtz was 50 feet away from the UMass bench when he called it -- the Wildcats went on an 11-2 run and broke away for an 87-77 victory in the NCAA East Regional semifinals at The Spectrum.
Richie Farmer made both technical free throws, and when Kentucky inbounded the ball, John Pelphrey fed Deron Feldhaus for a layup to make it 74-68.
After forcing a Massachusetts turnover, the Wildcats worked the same play, and this time, the Feldhaus layup pushed Kentucky's edge to 76-68.
The victory put Kentucky (29-6) into tomorrow night's regional final against either top-ranked, top-seeded Duke or fourth-seeded Seton Hall, with the winner advancing to next week's Final Four in Minneapolis. The defeat broke a 14-game winning streak and, more importantly, ended a magnificent season for Massachusetts (30-5).
Although Wirtz certainly played his part in the outcome, Kentucky center Jamal Mashburn played an ever larger part. He tore apart the Minutemen's interior defense for most of the night, and finished with 30 points. Pelphrey added 18 for the Wildcats.
It didn't appear that the Minutemen would make it much of a game. They missed their first four shots and Kentucky made its first eight. They missed 13 of their first 18 shots and the Wildcats made 14 of 19, creating a 37-16 Kentucky bulge.
Massachusetts had all kinds of problems with Mashburn, who scored three times inside in the opening minutes, went outside to hit a three, then went back inside. Eventually, the shots began to fall for the Minutemen and Kentucky's big lead began to dwindle.
After a ferocious rebound dunk by freshman center Andre Riddick gave the Wildcats a commanding 44-24 lead, the Minutemen made a run. They began hitting their shots, but more importantly, a combination of defenses shut off Kentucky's inside game.
Trailing 44-28 with a little more than four minutes left, Massachusetts went to the zone. Mashburn powered in for a couple of post-up baskets, but Kentucky seemed to be standing around. The Minutemen started running and two jumpers, one by Tony Barbee and the other by Jim McCoy, cut Kentucky's lead into single digits for the first time since early in the game.
Finally, after a layup by Junior Braddy gave the Wildcats a 50-39 lead, the teams traded turnovers in the closing seconds. Taking the ball inbounds under his own basket with 1.4 seconds left, Massachusetts forward William Herndon passed leisurely to McCoy, whose two-handed, 70-foot push shot hit nothing but the bottom of the net.
The shot sent the crowd into an uproar and the Minutemen into their locker room at halftime with renewed confidence. After being outplayed and outshot for most of the half, Massachusetts was only down by eight at halftime. And Kentucky, which might have been thinking ahead to tomorrow's regional final, suddenly found itself in a game.
Kentucky saw its lead evaporate even more in the opening minute of the second half. It was down to four, 50-46, before the Wildcats stretched it back to 58-48 on a drive by Farmer with 16 minutes left.
Twice, the Minutemen got within four, but they would miss open jumpers or wouldn't be able to handle the Wildcats' fullcourt press. Once, they got to within two, 60-58, but McCoy forced a jumper as the 45-second clock bore down.
And Mashburn, who scored 17 points in the first half, continued to give Massachusetts problems inside. He got fouled going up after rebounding a three- point miss by Pelphrey and made both free throws for a 64-58 lead. Then, after McCoy and Herndon missed for the Minutemen, he posted up for another short jumper to push the Wildcats ahead by eight, 66-58.
When Massachusetts answered with a pair of free throws by Herndon and a drive by freshman reserve Louis Roe, Mashburn simply moved down in the lane, called for the ball and fingerolled it in for the basket. But the Minutemen wouldn't fold, cutting the Kentucky lead back to 70-68 with a little more than six minutes left.