|ESPN.com: College Basketball Nation||[Print without images]|
ARLINGTON, Texas -- A brilliant Final Four game ended with the Kentucky Wildcats -- those frustrating, late-coming, remarkable, young Wildcats -- moving on. Five things from a classic:
1. Aaron Harrison did it again. By "it" we mean a last-second 3 25 feet from the rim from the left wing with a defender in his face. Kentucky trailed 73-71 with 15 seconds to play, and when Andrew Harrison's baseline drive stalled, the Wildcats swung the ball to the sideline to Aaron Harrison. Harrison sized up the defense, glanced at the clock -- there were eight seconds left, then seven -- and let it fly. It went in. Of course it went in.
Harrison ran back down the floor waving his arms, nodding his head, as if to say exactly that: Yep. Again.
Wisconsin had a great look to win -- Traevon Jackson stepped back for a wide-open jumper -- a shot he has made with the buzzer running out a handful of times already in his career -- and it looked good off the glass. It rimmed in and out. Jackson stood in disbelief. Bo Ryan reached to console him and then walked to shake John Calipari's hand.
2. Kentucky shut down Frank Kaminsky -- for most of the game. Kentucky's strategy against Kaminsky -- who had carried the Badgers offensively throughout the tournament, and especially in UW's Elite Eight win over Arizona -- worked. The Wildcats double- and triple-teamed Kaminsky, forcing him to kick the ball and refusing to give him any easy layups. With 90 seconds to play, Kaminsky had six points. His offensive rebound and putback with 1:15 was, to that point, the most important play of the game. It brought Wisconsin back into a tie, but it wasn't enough at the end.
3. Kentucky's offensive rebounding was too much -- for most of the game. For all of the big plays down the stretch, Wisconsin spent most of the game being overwhelmed by the Wildcats' relentless offensive rebounding. It's the same story every game with Kentucky: Calipari's team pummels its way to the rim and bullies its way to the offensive boards, getting easy putbacks. Through the first half and the first five minutes of the second, Julius Randle & Co. were grabbing 48 percent of their missed shots. It wasn't until Wisconsin made its second-half surge that the Badgers finally slowed the Big Blue brawlers down.
4. And Wisconsin did weather that inevitable Wildcats run. Near the end of the first half, after Randle finished a feathery spin-move hook around Kaminsky, he turned and told his team, "We're taking this." The first 10 minutes of the second half bore that confidence out: Kentucky came right at Wisconsin, driving at the Badgers' chests, gobbling up offensive rebounds and locking in on the defensive end. Within six minutes, Kentucky's 15-0 run turned a seven-point UW lead into a 51-43 deficit. The Badgers were in that familiar danger zone, in which a couple more misses or turnovers can turn into a sudden blowout.
But then, on Wisconsin came: With 14:34 to play, Duje Dukan got an easy layup on a gorgeous backdoor pass from Nigel Hayes. Dukan hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to three. Ben Brust responded to Andrew Harrison's layup with a 3 of his own. Two possessions later, Brust's free throws tied the game at 53-53. Or 0-0. The national semifinal would hang in the balance until the final buzzer.
5. That was a classic. If you watched, you don't need us to tell you, but let's make sure to reiterate it anyway: That was a massive 40 minutes of Final Four basketball. Both teams shot the ball well, both teams executed, both teams scored well above a point per possession (about 1.20 each), both teams had huge, and hugely loud, fan followings. Both teams traded big basket after big basket, one crucial play after the next.
And it ended as it felt destined to: With Harrison making that same unlikely 3 from that same spot, sending these same suddenly unstoppable Wildcats through to the next NCAA tournament challenge. Again.