Notre Dame has a history of toppling giants
Irish have beaten No. 1 eight times, and are hoping to make Kentucky No. 9.
BEWARE, KENTUCKY. That little leprechaun looms. The pristine season, the presumed NCAA championship, the aura of invincibility and every other plaudit being thrown at the so-good-they're-scary Wildcats are all at great risk. There's a proven giant-killer waiting.
Notre Dame's got next.
The Fighting Irish, with a long history of slaying basketball behemoths, stand in Kentucky's path to the Final Four and perhaps the first undefeated season in the college game since Bobby Knight's Indiana squad ran the table 39 years ago. Tonight, Notre Dame gets another chance at bringing down this team of teams, one some feel is invincible - you know, like the 1974 UCLA Bruins, who had their 88-game winning streak stopped by ND.
Double-digit underdogs, the Fighting Irish (32-5) believe they'll take the floor with millions.
"We are America's team tomorrow," coach Mike Brey said yesterday. "And we love it, we certainly will take all that support. We've got a monumental challenge on our hands."
No doubt. David only had one Goliath to deal with. Kentucky's got a half-dozen future NBA first-round draft picks, and the top-seeded Wildcats (37-0) are coming off a jaw-dropping, 39-point win over West Virginia in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament's Midwest Regional. Kentucky showcased all of its splendor - size, depth, defense, cold-bloodedness - in running the Mountaineers out of Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
But beyond having one of the most efficient offenses in the country, three-point shooters and underrated toughness, the Fighting Irish believe. Big time.
"We have a lot of confidence," guard Jerian Grant said. "We feel they haven't played an offensive team like us. Just go out there and play our game I think we'll be able to get a win."
Notre Dame has knocked off the AP's No. 1 ranked team eight times, most recently in 2012 against Syracuse. And while that won't necessarily help them as they try to tame the Wildcats, the Fighting Irish have faith it can happen again.
Arizona guard Gabe York remembers having the ball in his hands, taking a couple of dribbles and failing to get a shot off before time expired.
Wisconsin 64, Arizona 63, in overtime.
The Badgers advanced to the Final Four for the first time under coach Bo Ryan a year ago, and the Wildcats went back to the desert, unable to deliver the same initial appearance for coach Sean Miller.
"They made one more play in overtime than we did," York said yesterday. "That was a crazy, crazy scenario. There were only 2 seconds left and it took them about 15 minutes for those 2 seconds to end."
Now, they're going to do it again.
This time, the Badgers (34-3) have moved up from the No. 2 seed to No. 1, led by 7-footer Frank Kaminsky. The Wildcats (34-3) are No. 2, a spot lower than last year, and Pac-12 player of the year Nick Johnson, who launched a desperate shot just after the buzzer, graduated.
The stakes are the same: a trip to Indianapolis awaits the winner of tonight's West Regional title game at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
"Obviously, it's icing on the cake that we get to play Wisconsin in the Elite Eight and have a chance to go to the Final Four," York said. "We're extra amped."
Ditto the Badgers, who include title-hungry seniors Kaminsky, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson and Duje Dukan.
"We know they've added some pieces, but at the same time we're better than we were this time last year," Kaminsky said. "They're long, they're athletic and they're animals. They're not afraid of anything and they have the ability to get to the lane and go right up through you."
Kaleb Tarczewski scored 12 points and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had 10 for the Wildcats last year in the relentlessly physical game. In overtime, Arizona had an answer for just about everything Wisconsin did.