Clutch Cats top Notre Dame in final seconds, advance into Final Four
03/28/2015 11:03 PM
CLEVELAND — With their backs against the wall, the Kentucky Wildcats showed why they’re the top team in the nation by fighting back to save their perfect season.
Andrew Harrison sank two clutch free throws with six seconds remaining as undefeated No. 1 Kentucky kept its title hopes in tact with a dramatic 68-66 victory over No. 3 seed Notre Dame on Saturday to win the Midwest Regional final.
With the win, the Wildcats (38-0) advanced into the Final Four for the second consecutive season and fourth time in five years, where they will face fellow No. 1 seed Wisconsin next Saturday. The Badgers defeated No. 2 seed Arizona in the West Regional final to earn their spot in what will be a rematch of one of last year’s national semifinals, game Kentucky one in similar dramatic fashion.
Freshman Karl-Anthony Towns led the way for the Wildcats with a game-high 25 points, and despite bad shooting performances, the Harrison twins once again hit big shots late in an NCAA tournament for Kentucky.
Notre Dame (32-6) controlled momentum for most of the game, but despite being down six with just 5:22 left, Kentucky roared back to take a 64-63 lead on an Aaron Harrison three-pointer with 3:14 remaining — the same Harrison who hit game-winning triples in the Elite Eight and Final Four in last year’s tournament run for Kentucky.
Fighting Irish star Jerian Grant responded with a deep triple of his own as the shot clock expired to put Notre Dame back on top, 66-64, with 2:36 left, but Towns finished in the paint on the other end to re-tie the score.
The young UK center was unstoppable in the second half, scoring 17 of his 25 points on perfect 8-8 shooting to single-handedly keep Kentucky in the game. He was also named the Midwest Regional’s Most Outstanding Player after the game.
On the next possession, Willie Cauley-Stein blocked another Grant three-point attempt to return the ball to Kentucky with just 33 seconds remaining and an opportunity to play for the final shot.
The Wildcats held the ball as the clock ticked down until Andrew Harrison — who finished 0-2 from the field but 7-8 from the foul line — drove into the lane, created contacted, and sank the decisive free throws with six seconds left to give UK the lead.
Notre Dame still had a chance to win or tie in the final seconds. Grant raced the ball up the court but dribbled into a double team in the left corner, and his desperation three at the buzzer wasn’t close.
The senior point guard finished with 15 points in his final collegiate competition but only shot 4-16 from the field and 1-6 from distance as SEC Defensive Player of the Year Cauley-Stein hounded him all around the court for most of the game.
Zach Auguste tallied a team-high 20 points for the Fighting Irish but did not score over the final 5:22.
The Wildcats, on the other hand, made their final last shots from the field to complete the comeback.
For a long stretch during the second half, it seemed as though Notre Dame — who famously ended UCLA’s 88-game win streak in 1974 — was about to end the greatest start in NCAA history as well. But the Cats wouldn’t allow it.
They’re still perfect and not done yet.