Another late shot sends Wildcats to title game against UConn
Let’s take a moment and be thankful this season didn’t turn out for Kentucky the way many predicted.
How boring would all this be if Kentucky were a top seed, a team whose trip to the national championship game felt like a formality?
Instead, Kentucky has given the NCAA Tournament one of the most thrilling runs in NCAA Tournament history. Five games decided by seven points or fewer, the last three on late 3-pointers by Aaron Harrison.
The Wildcats will go to the national championship game as a No. 8 seed to face seventh-seeded UConn. Either way, the national champion will be the lowest-seeded team to win the title since No. 8 Villanova won it in 1985, the first season since the field expanded to 64 teams.
And, no, it’s not enough that Kentucky has defeated three teams from last year’s Final Four, one of which was undefeated and another the Wildcats’ chief rival. It’s not enough that Kentucky defeated a Wisconsin team that missed one free throw all night.
The story had to be better. Aaron Harrison bailed out his twin, Andrew, who had fouled Wisconsin guard Traevon Jackson on a 3-point shot. Jackson made two free throws to give the Badgers a two-point lead.
Aaron, though, made sure his brother wouldn’t live in Kentucky lore as the player who cost the Wildcats a shot at the title. With the game on the line, Andrew passed to Aaron, who hit an NBA-range 3 to beat Wisconsin with 5.7 seconds remaining.
Game MVP: Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
He scored only eight points, fewest among Kentucky starters, but it’s tough to pick anyone else for this spot. Harrison has hit three consecutive game winners, each one as impressive as the last. Against Michigan, it was a contested 3. Against Wisconsin, it was an NBA-range 3 with a hand in his face. A 4-for-14 night is rarely this satisfying.
Telling stat: 8, points by Frank Kaminsky
Wisconsin got offense from unexpected sources — 11 from Bronson Koenig, 8 from Duje Dukan — but the key matchup in the game went into the favor of Kentucky. Kaminsky was held in check for most of the game. While he was 4-of-7 from the floor with four offensive rebounds, Kaminsky didn’t attempt a shot from 3-point range and finished with eight points.
How Kentucky won:
The Harrison shot will be remembered, but a Kentucky timeout set the Wildcats on a run that ultimately won the game. Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker hit a 3-pointer in the first minute of the second half to give the Badgers a seven-point lead. After a timeout, Kentucky scored the next 15 points over a little more than 3 minutes. Wisconsin answered, but the run set Kentucky in motion to win the game.
How Wisconsin lost:
It’s far too lazy to blame the free throw Traevon Jackson missed in the final minute. Jackson was at the free throw line thanks to a mistake by Andrew Harrison, who fouled the Badgers point guard during a 3-point attempt. It also was Wisconsin’s only miss of the night. Not many teams go 19-of-20 from the free throw line and lose, especially while their opponents go 14-of-21. Instead, Wisconsin lost because it struggled in the paint, even against a team missing its best offensive rebounder. Kentucky grabbed 11 offensive boards and outscored Wisconsin 46-24 in the paint. The results aren’t shocking, but they did determine the game.
Key for Kentucky in the national championship game:
Injured or not, Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin struggled against UConn’s guards. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright can disrupt opposing guards as well as anyone. The Harrisons were a combined 7-of-22 against Wisconsin. Even if Aaron was the hero again, he’ll be put to the test against the Huskies.