INDIANAPOLIS – Aaron Harrison made a 3-pointer from NBA range with 2.3 seconds left Sunday to lift Kentucky and its freshmen to a 75-72 win over Michigan and a trip to the Final Four.
After Harrison’s teammate, Julius Randle, inadvertently tipped in the tying shot on Michigan’s previous possession, the eighth-seeded Wildcats got the ball to the 6-foot-6 guard, whose twin brother, Andrew, is another of the five freshmen in Kentucky’s starting lineup.
Standing a good three feet behind the arc, Harrison elevated over Caris LeVert and took a bit of contact on the arm from the Michigan guard as he shot. No matter. The shot rattled in, and for the second straight game in the Midwest Regional, Harrison had the go-ahead points in a tense game for the Wildcats (28-10).
In this one, he scored all 12 of his points off four 3-pointers over the last 8:05.
“I hit a couple before that, so coach said to get the shot we were looking for,” Harrison said. “They put it in my hands and I wanted to deliver for them out there.”
Nik Stauskas missed a halfcourt heave at the buzzer for second-seeded Michigan (28-9), and moments later, Harrison was under a dog pile – or make that a puppy pile. This is the first all-freshman starting lineup to make the Final Four since another well-known group, the Fab Five of Michigan, did it in 1992.
“I’m gonna see everyone in Dallas this year,” coach John Calipari said, with his version of a Texas twang, as he addressed the crowd before the nets came down.
The Wildcats will play Wisconsin next Saturday outside of Big D.
Stauskas finished with 24 points for the Wolverines, who finished a win shy of their second straight Final Four.
Randle had 16 points and 11 rebounds for his 24th double-double and was named the region’s most outstanding player.
But he was just one of the freshmen stars for the Wildcats Sunday.
While Harrison was being completely shut down early, it was unheralded Marcus Lee keeping the Wildcats in the game.
Lee, one of the six McDonald’s All-American freshmen on Calipari’s roster, had scored a total of nine points since the beginning of January. But he got minutes that would have normally gone to the injured Willie Cauley-Stein, and finished with 10 points and eight rebounds. Eight of those points came on put-back dunks that were part of Kentucky’s 18 offensive rebounds.
Harrison’s first 3 gave Kentucky a 58-55 lead and was part of an 11-0 run that put the Wolverines in catch-up mode, behind 62-55 with 6:30 left.
They fought back, and during a nine-possession stretch of sublime basketball that covered more than four minutes, each team scored every time they got the ball.
The first stop in the sequence gave the Wolverines the ball with about a minute left, trailing 72-70.
Stauskas missed a layup and a 3-pointer and Derrick Walton then missed an open 3. But the fourth attempt went in with 31 seconds left and got credited to Jordan Morgan on a scramble under the basket, though it was Randle’s hand that tipped the ball in.
Calipari called a timeout. Michigan burned a foul. And the endgame started with 10 seconds left. The ball went to Harrison and it was clear he was going to take the shot. He spotted up from about 25 feet, and after he hit, he walked backward calmly before being hugged by Randle and Dakari Johnson.
Moments later, Kentucky was celebrating, preparing for the program’s 16th trip to college basketball’s biggest stage.