INDIANAPOLIS – Nobody will accuse these Kentucky kids of being the fastest learners. Not this season. And certainly not during most of Friday night’s game against Louisville.
But once again, late in the game with everything on the line, they figured things out just in time.
Aaron Harrison hit a 3-pointer for the go-ahead score with 39 seconds left and Julius Randle made a pair of clutch free throws to lift the fantastic freshmen of Kentucky to a 74-69 victory over their in-state rivals.
The eighth-seeded Wildcats (27-10) led for a grand total of 65 seconds in this Midwest Regional semifinal. They’ll play Michigan on Sunday for a trip to the Final Four.
“I told them before the game, you’ll get punched in the mouth and you’re going to taste blood,” coach John Calipari said. “You can fight or you can brace yourself for the next shot. They fought.”
Fourth-seeded and defending champion Louisville ends its season at 31-6.
Few expected a run this deep for the Wildcats as this season played out and their five freshmen starters struggled to play a team game. But they’ve been learning slowly. They trailed by 13 midway through the first half, then by seven with 4½ minutes left.
Suddenly, things kicked in.
Actually, it was a sophomore, Alex Poythress, who scored five points and blocked a Russ Smith layup attempt during a 7-0 run that tied the game at 66 with 2:11 left.
“Alex Poythress won the game for us,” Calipari said. “We were begging him the whole game to start playing, and he played at the right time.”
Kentucky has now knocked off previously undefeated Wichita State, defending national champion Louisville and has a meeting with last year’s runnerup, Michigan, coming next.
The latest win for Kentucky was the ultimate lesson in patience for a team that, for so long, had trouble showing any. They were touted on T-shirts as the team that would go 40-0 and win the national title, then all head off to the NBA.
Two out of three is still possible.
“They finally have surrendered and lost themselves in the team,” Calipari said. “It’s just taken a long time.”
Michigan 73, Tennessee 71
In Indianapolis, Jordan Morgan scored 15 points and Nik Stauskas had 14 including a key free throw.
The second-seeded Wolverines (28-8) led by 15 with 10:55 to go, but committed four turnovers in the final 97 seconds. Eleventh-seeded Tennessee (24-13) cut the lead to 72-71 and had a chance to take the lead, but Jarnell Stokes was called for an offensive foul with 6 seconds left.
Michigan State 61, Virginia 59
In New York, Branden Dawson had 24 points and 10 rebounds and Michigan State beat top-seeded Virginia to advance to East Regional final.
The fourth-seeded Spartans (29-8) will play Connecticut (29-8) on Sunday with a berth in the Final Four up for grabs.
UConn 81, Iowa State 76
In New York, DeAndre Daniels scored 27 points, 19 in the second half, and UConn reached the East Regional final a year after the Huskies were barred from the NCAA tournament.
Daniels hit his first six shots after halftime, the only Husky to make a field goal for over 8½ minutes. His 3-pointer gave seventh-seeded UConn a 49-32 lead.
Dustin Hogue scored a career-high 34 points for third-seeded Iowa State (28-8).