INDIANAPOLIS – OK, so maybe they’re not the quickest learners. Still, the kids at Kentucky figured out Louisville 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 freshman 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.
Few expected a run this deep as this season played out and Kentucky’s five freshmen starters struggled to play a team game. But they’ve been learning slowly. Trailing by seven with 4½ minutes left, things kicked in again.
Actually, it was a sophomore, Alex Poythress, who scored five points in a 7-0 run that tied the game at 66 with 2:11 left. Then, it was the Kentucky freshmen who showed all the poise against the defending national champs, led by seniors Russ Smith (23 points) and Luke Hancock (19).
Harrison took a pass from Julius 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. Smith missed a tough look at a 3-pointer on the next possession and a few seconds later, the Wildcats were chest bumping and coach John Calipari was pumping his fists to a loud stadium full of blue.
This was the ultimate lesson in patience for a team that, for so long, had trouble showing any.
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 led by as many as 13 in the first half, yet went to halftime only up three despite holding Kentucky to 33 percent from the floor.
Making this win even more impressive for the Wildcats: They played almost the entire game without Willie Cauley-Stein, an NBA-caliber forward who sprained his left ankle early. And James Young, who also might go pro, 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’s had a double-double in all three tournament games.
Now, who’s to say the Wildcats can’t go all the way?
Michigan withstands furious Tennessee rally, win 73-71
INDIANAPOLIS — Jordan Morgan scored 15 points and Nik Stauskas had 14 including a key free throw to help Michigan hold on for a 73-71 victory over Tennessee in Friday’s first Midwest Regional semifinal.
The second-seeded Wolverines now play either Louisville, who they lost to in last year’s national championship game, or 2012 national champion Kentucky Sunday.
The Wolverines (28-8) led by 15 with 10:55 to go, but committed four turnovers in the final 97 seconds. Tennessee (24-13) cut the lead to 72-71 and had a chance to take the lead, but Jarnell Stokes was called for an offensive foul with 6 seconds left.
Stauskas then made 1 of 2 free throws and Tennessee’s long desperation heave was off the mark.
Jordan McRae scored 24 to lead the 11th-seeded Vols.
Michigan State outlasts top-seeded Virginia, 61-59
NEW YORK – Branden Dawson had 24 points and 10 rebounds and Michigan State beat top-seeded Virginia 61-59 on Friday night to advance to East Regional final.
The fourth-seeded Spartans (29-8) will play Connecticut (29-8) on Sunday with a Final Four berth at stake. The seventh-seeded Huskies beat third-seeded Iowa State 81-76 earlier Friday.
Michigan State overcame a horrible start to the second half and then withstood a late run by the Cavaliers (30-7) to advance to the regional finals for the eighth time since 1985 — all under coach Tom Izzo.
Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogden both had 17 points for Virginia, which became the second No. 1 seed to be eliminated, joining Wichita State.
Adreian Payne had 16 points for Michigan State and his 3-pointer with 1:29 left gave the Spartans the lead for good at 54-51. After a miss by Brogdon, the 6-foot-10 Payne turned point guard, finding Dawson with a line drive lob pass for a dunk with 52 seconds to go.
Harris hit a 3 with 39 seconds left to bring the Cavaliers within 56-54.
Payne found another way to help the Spartans, making two free throws with 32 seconds left for a 58-54 lead.
Brogdon hit a 3 with 1.1 seconds left to bring Virginia within 60-59. Gary Harris made one of two free throws to make it 61-59 and Virginia’s last attempt was well off the mark.
Michigan State came up with a defensive effort that Virginia is known for. The Spartans held the Cavaliers to 35.1 percent shooting (20 of 57), well off the 45.7 percent they shot during the season and nowhere near the 54.3 percent they shot in the two NCAA tournament games.
Dawson, who averages 11.0 points per game, has scored in double figures in six straight games and he had a career-high 26 points in the third-round win over Harvard.
Michigan State started the second half by missing seven of its first eight shots and committing five turnovers. Virginia took advantage to turn a 31-27 halftime deficit into a 38-34 lead. The Spartans went on a 13-2 run to go up 49-42 with 6:10 to go.
Virginia, the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and tournament champions, answered with a 7-0 run to tie the game at 51 with 1:51 left and then Payne accounted for Michigan State’s next seven points.
Michigan State, which has become one of the favorites for the national championship since it has finally become healthy, shot 44.7 percent from the field (21 for 47) and was able to score just over the 55.5 Virginia had allowed all season in leading the nation in that statistic.
The Spartans, who started the season 18-1 and spent three weeks at No. 1 in the AP Top 25, shot 52.3 percent in their last four games.
The Spartans started the game doing what teams just don’t against Virginia — make shots. Michigan State made eight of its first 12 from the field in taking a 21-11 lead with 9:46 left in the first half. The Cavaliers allowed teams to shoot 38.6 percent from the field for the season.
The Spartans finally started to miss — making only one of their next eight shots — and Virginia took advantage with a 12-0 run that gave the Cavaliers a 25-23 lead with 3:30 to go. Joe Harris and Brogdon hit 3s in the run — Virginia only had three in the first half — and reserve Anthony Gill contributed three points and brought a hustle spark to the Cavaliers.
Gary Harris dunked and Dawson scored on a drive to break a 27-all tie and give the Spartans a 31-27 halftime lead.
These were the first NCAA tournament games played at Madison Square Garden since 1961.
7th-seeded UConn rolls past Iowa State
NEW YORK — DeAndre Daniels scored 26 points, 18 in the second half, and UConn held off Iowa State 81-76 on Friday to reach the East Regional final a year after the Huskies were barred from the NCAA tournament.
Daniels hit his first six shots after halftime, the only Husky to make a field goal for over 8½ minutes. His 3-pointer gave seventh-seeded UConn a 49-32 lead.
The Cyclones rallied late, pulling within 67-63 with 2½ minutes remaining. But senior Niels Giffey hit a 3 in the corner for his first points since the game’s opening moments, and when the Huskies (29-8) made their free throws in the final minute, the UConn fans packing Madison Square Garden could celebrate.
Dustin Hogue scored a career-high 34 points for third-seeded Iowa State (28-8).