Late 3 clinches win for Kentucky
Published on -4/6/2014, 8:09 AM
ARLINGTON, Texas — Aaron Harrison can't miss with Kentucky's NCAA Tournament life in his hands, Julius Randle's hometown reverie becomes ever more real and the No. 8-seeded Wildcats will, improbably, play No. 7-seed Connecticut for the national title Monday.
Separation wouldn't stick Saturday night at AT&T Stadium in a national semifinal of contrasting programs. It took Harrison's third-straight game-clinching 3-pointer, this one with 5.7 seconds left, for the Cats to knock off No. 2-seed Wisconsin, 74-73, after a heart-stopping back-and-forth finish.
Consider it the comfort zone of this young Kentucky team, which has slayed its regular-season demons with a run of dramatic NCAA Tournament wins over No. 1-seed Wichita State, No. 4-seed Louisville, No. 2-seed Michigan and, of late, these stubborn Badgers.
UK, as blue-blooded as they come, will play for its ninth national title and its second in three seasons under coach John Calipari. Wisconsin, making its first appearance in the Final Four since 2000 and its first under coach Bo Ryan, last won a national title in 1941.
Kentucky – though some won't like it _ can become the first group of all-freshman starters to win the championship. Michigan's Fab Five freshmen lost in the national title game to Duke in 1992.
Forward James Young led Kentucky with 17 points and Randle – the Plano Prestonwood Christian product who had set this North Texas Final Four as his goal back in eighth grade – finished with 16. Randle rolled his right ankle in the first half, but missed little time.
"I'm definitely not satisfied," Randle said. "We have one more game to go. We have been through a lot this year and we deserve to reward ourselves and go out there and play hard and give it all we got. Definitely not satisfied."
Ben Brust and Sam Dekker led Wisconsin with 15 points. Frank Kaminsky, who averaged 18.5 points for the Badgers over the first four games of the tournament, was limited to eight points.
UK's Alex Poythress, who made a big impact off the bench, made a tip-in to break a 69-all tie with 2:11 to play.
But Kaminsky, who'd gone from role player last season to the reason Wisconsin made it here, tied the score, 71-71, on a basket in the paint with a minute left.
Junior point guard Traevon Jackson, hampered by foul trouble most of the game, drew a foul on Andrew Harrison on a 3-pointer with 16.4 seconds remaining after a miss by Andrew Harrison. Jackson missed the first – the first and only UW miss from the line (19-of-20) for the game – but hit the next two to go up 73-71.
Aaron Harrison, taking an assist from his brother, nailed a 3-pointer from the left wing for the lead. It was the third in an amazing trio of 3-pointers, coming on top of a go-ahead shot late in a Sweet 16 thriller against Louisville and the game-winner with 2.6 seconds left in the Elite Eight to beat Michigan.
Wisconsin's Jackson got off a good look in the final seconds, but it fell off the rim.
The Cats peeled off a ferocious 15-0 run early in the second half, attacking the Badgers inside, driving and going after rebounds, tip-ins and dunks. UK, trailed by double digits against Louisville and Michigan, went from down nine in the first half to up eight points with just 15 minutes to play.
But the Badgers, using 3-pointers from Brust and Duje Dukan got Wisconsin right back in it.
Wisconsin had controlled the first half, leading by as many as nine, boosted by the play of freshman Bronson Koenig off the bench.
"I am very proud," Wisconsin freshman Nigel Hayes said, "but we know that if we had done one more of this (or that), we would still be playing on Monday.”