Kentucky survives massive scare vs. Notre Dame to reach Final Four – USA TODAY
CLEVELAND – Breaking down No. 1 seed Kentucky’s 68-66 victory against No. 3 seed Notre Dame in the Midwest Regional final at Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday night:
WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT: Quite simply, given everything at stake, this was nothing less than one of the greatest games — and almost one of the greatest upsets — in NCAA tournament history. Even when so many things didn’t go its way, Kentucky’s grit showed again, coming back from 61-56 down at the five-minute mark. Tension-filled possession after tension-filled possession, Kentucky got better shots down the stretch — making its final nine field goal attempts (the Wildcats’ last miss came with 12:05 left) — and won on Andrew Harrison’s free throws with six seconds remaining.
BOX SCORE: Wildcats 68, Fighting Irish 66
THE BIG PICTURE: John Calipari has left national championships on the table before. One slipped away at Memphis, for sure. His 2010 team with John Wall was the heavy favorite going into the tournament. Once the Wildcats got to the final last year, another one was there for the taking against UConn. But this would have been the all-time disappointment: Kentucky, after going 37-0, not even making the Final Four. Instead, the Wildcats got 25 points from freshman Karl-Anthony Towns, who had played poorly in the tournament, to send them to their fourth Final Four in the past five years. For Notre Dame, making the Final Four for the first time since 1978 would have been sweet. To do it by knocking out the unbeaten Wildcats would have been remembered forever. Still, this season and run to the Elite Eight was a wild success for the Fighting Irish.
THE DECIDING PLAY: After Towns tied the game at 66-66 on a layup with 1:12 left, Notre Dame needed a good possession. It didn’t get one, as Jerian Grant’s three-pointer was blocked leading to a shot-clock violation, giving Kentucky the last possession with 33.6 seconds remaining. Andrew Harrison was fouled driving in with six seconds left. His free throws put the Wildcats ahead, and Grant’s rushed three-point attempt for the win was an airball long.
BREAKOUT PLAYER: When you’re Notre Dame’s only true big man and you finish with 20 points on 10-for-13 shooting with nine rebounds, you’re going to get noticed. Zach Auguste played like he was angry at the rim, got off two layups right before the shot clock hit zero and went toe-to-toe with Towns all night despite foul trouble.
KEY STAT: Kentucky only allowed 30 or more points in the paint nine times this year. Notre Dame had 20 in the first half and got to 30 with 14:25 remaining, using an offense that spread the floor and opened up the lane for drives and backdoor cuts. The Fighting Irish finished with 40, matching the Wildcats.
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