Kentucky narrowly escapes to advance to another Final Four and maintain their perfect season.
Nobody said it was easy…No one ever said it would be this hard.
Those lyrics from Coldplay’s “The Scientist” do not solely make up an undeniably great song, they summarize better than anything else could what we saw Saturday night in Cleveland, Ohio.
Every single time it looked as if Kentucky was ready to get on with what it’s done all season–that is run away with the basketball game–Notre Dame had an answer. It took a few punches, but it kept getting back up. And then it landed a few of its own.
Up until a play inside the game’s final minutes, the Fighting Irish had a stretch of 29 minutes without turning the ball over. Against Kentucky–the nation’s longest and most intimidating defense.
Zach Auguste battled foul trouble and being beaten up defensively in the post by Karl-Anthony Towns to lead the Irish with 20 points on an array of dunks and off-balanced layups and hook shots around the rim.
Speaking of Towns, though, he was unstoppable in the post. He used the baby hook several times to secure easy baskets and pace the field in scoring, with a game high of 25.
Yet it was Andrew Harrison who made the game’s most important shots–hitting the game-winning free throws with 6.0 seconds to go to secure Kentucky’s return to the Final Four, just as Wisconsin had done earlier Saturday evening.
He finished with seven points on the night, all of them coming at the free throw line. In case you forgot, it was Harrison who a season ago was the Wildcats’ miracle man, hitting all their big shots in an overall much more contested Final Four run in 2014.
And he stepped up again, proving that the team which had only three “close finishes” this season had enough will-power to finish games in March when teams actually challenged them.
Notre Dame came into the game with a fine record in close battles including a perfect 4-0 in overtime games. After the Harrison made free throws, they were simply hoping to get to that point.
They couldn’t, proving that Kentucky can be matched for 39 minutes, and play just one minute of superior basketball and it’s enough this season, with this much talent for John Calipari’s young team.
The Wisconsin Badgers–their competition next Saturday in Indianapolis–are an equally efficient offensive team (the Badgers and Fighting Irish were the two most efficient offensive teams in the country this year). They, like Notre Dame will challenge the Kentucky defense with a variety of different scoring possibilities.
Wisconsin–as it proved earlier Saturday–can get hot from deep, just as it can use its player of the year candidate, Frank Kaminsky, to score around the basket.
That was the overall offensive approach that Notre Dame employed Saturday night. For 39 minutes it worked. It had them tied, and even ahead for much of the game.
But as the old cliche goes, you have to play a full 40 minutes. Against no team is that more true than the now 38-0 Kentucky Wildcats.
Wisconsin is capable of playing a full 40 minutes. Then again, so is Kentucky. And the thing we’ve seen this year is that if they they bring it for all 40, it doesn’t matter what the opposition does.
So the question next Saturday is, Who brings it the full 40?
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