Wildcats win a thriller and stay unbeaten.
CLEVELAND - Pushed to the brink, Kentucky's still perfect and still playing. Andrew Harrison made two free throws with six seconds remaining, and the top-seeded Wildcats kept their unbeaten season and national title hopes intact with a 68-66 win over Notre Dame on Saturday night in the Midwest Regional final.
CLEVELAND - Pushed to the brink, Kentucky's still perfect and still playing.
Andrew Harrison made two free throws with six seconds remaining, and the top-seeded Wildcats kept their unbeaten season and national title hopes intact with a 68-66 win over Notre Dame on Saturday night in the Midwest Regional final.
The Wildcats (38-0) advanced to the Final Four next weekend in Indianapolis, where they will meet Wisconsin.
"We didn't play very well and Notre Dame, I thought, controlled the whole thing, but we made the plays," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "We figured out a way to win it. We're just saying one more game, play our best. We've had other tests, but we have a will to win."
It took everything Kentucky had to hold off the Fighting Irish (32-6), who came within seconds of shocking the tournament's overwhelming favorite. Notre Dame, which has a history of stunning upsets in football and basketball, wasn't done until Jerian Grant's double-clutch three-pointer from the left corner was long.
Kentucky's bench stormed the floor, and the Wildcats, who had only one other two-point game this season, celebrated knowing they had ducked a major challenge and are now just two wins from becoming the first team to go undefeated since Indiana in 1976.
Karl-Anthony Towns scored 25 to lead Kentucky, which trailed for most of the second half.
Zach Auguste scored 20, St. Joseph's Prep graduate Steve Vasturia had 16 and Grant 15 for the third-seeded Fighting Irish, playing in their first regional final in 36 years.
There was no doubt Notre Dame belonged. The ACC tournament champions controlled the tempo and weren't intimated by the Wildcats and their collection of high school all-Americans and soon-to-be NBA millionaires.
Calipari insisted on Friday that his team was not perfect, only unbeaten, and that any team left in the tournament was capable of toppling his Wildcats.
Notre Dame was right there.
"It's tough," said Grant, who returned to Notre Dame this season after being dismissed for academics. "Just to be so close to making history, from doing something so special, and just like that it's over. We felt we played well enough to win."
Following a brief award ceremony, Kentucky's players cut down the nets as Prince's "1999" blared through the speakers inside Quicken Loans Arena, which had rocked for more than two hours as Notre Dame and Kentucky traded baskets. The game featured 20 lead changes and 12 ties.
The Fighting Irish needed a strong start to build confidence, and they got it, ending the half tied at 31.
For a long stretch of the second half it appeared the Fighting Irish would add another upset to their roster of stunners, none bigger than ending UCLA's 88-game winning streak in 1974.
But this Kentucky team wouldn't have it, and is now on history's doorstep.