10:00 PM ET, March 28, 2014
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana
INDIANAPOLIS -- Nobody will accuse these Kentucky kids of being the fastest learners. Not this season. And certainly not during most of Friday night's game against Louisville.
But once again, late in the game with everything on the line, they figured things out just in time.
Aaron Harrison hit a 3-pointer for the go-ahead score with 39 seconds left and Julius Randle made a pair of clutch free throws to lift the fantastic freshmen of Kentucky to a 74-69 victory over their in-state rivals.
The eighth-seeded Wildcats (27-10) led for a grand total of 65 seconds in this Midwest Regional semifinal. They'll play Michigan on Sunday for a trip to the Final Four.
"I told them before the game, you'll get punched in the mouth and you're going to taste blood," coach John Calipari said. "You can fight or you can brace yourself for the next shot. They fought."
Fourth-seeded and defending champion Louisville ends its season at 31-6.
Few expected a run this deep for the Wildcats as this season played out and their five freshman starters struggled to play a team game. But they've been learning slowly. They trailed by 13 midway through the first half, then by seven with 4 1/2 minutes left.
Suddenly, things kicked in.
"Alex Poythress won the game for us," Calipari said. "We were begging him the whole game to start playing, and he played at the right time."
From there, it was the Kentucky freshmen who showed all the poise against the defending national champs, who were led by seniors Smith (23 points) and Luke Hancock (19).
Harrison took a pass from Randle and spotted up in the corner for the go-ahead shot. Both finished with 15 points, as did yet another freshman starter, Dakari Johnson.
On the next possession, Louisville's Wayne Blackshear got fouled. The 71 percent career free throw shooter missed the first. Randle came down and made two free throws to put Kentucky ahead by three. Harrison guarded Smith and forced him to miss a tough 3-pointer on the next possession -- "His first stop of the game," Calipari quipped.
A few seconds later, the Wildcats were chest bumping and Calipari was pumping his fists to a loud stadium that was about two-thirds Kentucky blue, one-third Cardinals red.
Kentucky now has knocked off previously undefeated Wichita State and defending national champion Louisville, and has a meeting with last year's runner-up, Michigan, coming next. Earlier, the Wolverines beat Tennessee 73-71.
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The latest win for Kentucky was the ultimate lesson in patience for a team that, for so long, had trouble showing any. The Wildcats were touted on T-shirts as the team that would go 40-0 and win the national title, then all head off to the NBA.
Two out of three is still possible.
"They finally have surrendered and lost themselves in the team," Calipari said. "It's just taken a long time."
Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who fell to 11-1 in Sweet 16 games, produced a matchup zone that the Wildcats had trouble working through.
The Cards took the double-digit lead early, yet went to halftime up only three despite holding Kentucky to 33 percent from the floor.
The difference in Pitino's mind: Louisville went 13-for-23 from the free throw line while Kentucky went 22-for-27. And the Wildcats had a 37-29 rebounding edge, which also led to eight more second-chance points.
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"I told them we probably beat ourselves a little bit down the stretch," Pitino said. "But how can any of us complain with the run we've been on?"
Louisville's string of Final Fours will end at two, and there will be a new national champion.
Making this win even more impressive for the Wildcats: They played almost the entire game without Willie Cauley-Stein, an NBA-caliber forward who hurt his left ankle early.
"It's not a good ankle injury, let me just put it that way," Calipari said.
Another NBA prospect, James Young, fouled out with 5:32 left.
That left it to Harrison, his twin brother, Andrew (14 points), and Randle, a lottery pick in waiting who was a monster inside. He had 12 rebounds to go with the 15 points. He has had a double-double in all three tournament games.
Calipari makes no apologies for recruiting the best talent and taking his chances they'll leave before they really set up shop at Kentucky. That strategy helped him bring the eighth national title back home two years ago. Now, Kentucky is a win away from the program's 16th trip to the Final Four.
NCAA Mens Tournament
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 28: Russ Smith #2 of the Louisville Cardinals drives to the basket against James Young...(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Around Champ Week
Deciding factor: Louisville coach Rick Pitino attributed his team's loss to free-throw shooting and he isn't wrong. The Cardinals missed 10 of their 23 free throws while Kentucky was 22 of 27 at the line, and made five of its last six.
Player of the game: Kentucky's Julius Randle. The freshman recorded his 23rd double-double of the season. He was one of three Wildcats to score 15 points, and he grabbed 12 rebounds.
Key stat: During the final eight minutes of the game, Louisville scored two points in the paint on 1-of-5 shooting. The Cardinals had scored 42 paint points on 21-of-29 shooting during the first 32 minutes of the game.
Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||24-55 (.436)||26-53 (.491)|
|3P Made-Attempted||4-14 (.286)||4-15 (.267)|
|FT Made-Attempted||22-27 (.815)||13-23 (.565)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||19 (0/0)||24 (0/0)|
|» Mar 28, 2014||UK 74, @LOU 69||Recap|
Kentucky has won its last 2 games because it has executed down the stretch in "clutch time." In the last 5 minutes with the score within 5 points, Kentucky outscored Louisville and Wichita State by 12 points. During the regular season, Kentucky was outscored by 13 points in those situations. In their last 2 games, the Wildcats are shooting 56 percent and haven't committed a single turnover in "clutch time."[+]
Kentucky in Final 5:00 of 2nd Half/OT - With Score Within 5 Points This Season
Julius Randle has 37 rebounds through three tournament games, one shy of the record by a freshman.[+]
Julius Randle joins Greg Oden as the only freshmen with 15 points and 12 rebounds against a defending champ.[+]
At Least 15 Points and 12 Rebounds - By Freshman Against Defending Champion
Julius Randle is the third freshman in NCAA Tournament history with double-doubles in each of his first three games.[+]
Double-Double in First 3 Games - Freshmen in NCAA Tournament History
For the second straight game, Kentucky's freshmen combined for 68 points. The previous contest was a win over a Wichita State team that boasted the longest single-season win streak in Division I history; this time it came over defending champ Louisville.[+]
Most Points by Freshmen vs Defending Champion - NCAA Tournament History
ESPN Stats & Information