“It was a great college game…we’re extremely disappointed. We really thought that we had a great chance to beat them.”
Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey moments after nearly derailing Kentucky’s pursuit to perfection at the Midwest Regional Final in Cleveland.
Simply put, Notre Dame did everything right.
And I mean everything…except for the final minute of play.
Eight lead changes and multiple ties later, the Fighting Irish did not commit any fouls from the halftime break until 10:12 elapsed into the second half.
Three things Mike Brey’s team had going for them were huge as the game wore on and this had the makings of a classic:
- Notre Dame held its’ own in regards to points in the paint
- Rebounding was close to dead even (Kentucky won that battle by a small margin of 28-25)
- The three-point shot was available at key moments and the star players made the star plays from Zach Auguste to Patrick Connaughton and Jerian Grant.
Both teams played magnificently to a 31 all tie at the half.
Notre Dame led by as many as six points, 59-53 with 6:30 left.
But somehow, someway–the Harrison twins would not let Kentucky lose. From the 2:30 mark onward was when the comeback took some very strange turns for all fans of the Fighting Irish.
The peculiar sequence began with 45 seconds remaining, as Notre Dame missed a shot. Kentucky’s Tyus Jones clearly squeezed the ball too hard going for a rebound. The ball went out of bounds with 37.1 seconds to go.
Problem was, did the shot clock run out before the ball touched the ground?
After five minutes of deliberating, the officials correctly ruled that the ball would be retained by Notre Dame. But the Irish could not get a shot off in time. After Mike Brey used his last timeout, Andrew Harrison drove to the basket and drew a foul against Jerian Grant.
Kentucky missed six free throws in this game, but Harrison did not miss either one. With UK up two and six seconds left, and Patrick Connaughton dished the ball quickly to Jerian Grant. Speeding up court as quickly as he could, he got into the left corner attempting what would have been an upset-making three (almost as close as Villanova over Georgetown in 1985 for instant reference), but his double-clenching shot attempt simply drew air and went long as the buzzer sounded.
Kentucky survived with more than their shoes on tonight.
Yes, even Coach John Calipari strongly hinted on Friday that his team was “not perfect, only unbeaten.”
Karl-Anthony Towns still had a field day in the low blocks, finishing with a game high and hard earned 25 points. Auguste had 20 for the Irish, even finishing the game in foul trouble. His 9 rebounds was also huge. Against the best defense (probably) in college hoops (history), Notre Dame committed only seven turnovers.
The final score was 68-66, but on this being the 23rd anniversary of the Last Great Tournament Game when Kentucky was on the wrong end of a 103-102 overtime final when Christian Laettner completed his perfect shooting game of 10 for 10 from the field and 10 for 10 from the foul line during that year’s instantly memorable East Regional Final at the old Spectrum in Philadelphia–the Irish earned more than respect, since they proved all along that they can play with any team on any given night in any given venue.
But just like most bracketologists and experts in Las Vegas correctly predicted, we will have a rematch at the Final Four in Indianapolis.
California Dreamin’, Part II
With Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and girlfriend Olivia Munn in the crowd, the Wisconsin Badgers got off to a very fast start in the West Regional final in Los Angeles.
Brandon Ashley got into early foul trouble and the Badgers took full advantage leading 10-2. But somehow, the Wildcats chipped away even with Sam Dekker (27 points) and Frank Kaminsky (29 points) hitting nearly every shot each time they touched the ball.
Both teams shot a blistering 55 percent for the game, even though Arizona took a brief 33-30 lead into the halftime locker room.
But things started getting bleak for Sean Miller a few minutes into the second half. While attempting to grab a rebound, Stanley Jefferson’s right eye contact nearly came loose.
After feeling jilted in the locker room, he could barely see straight. Sideline reporter Rachel Nichols mentioned about Johnson, “not being able to read signs in the hallway.”
About 12 minutes (7 game minutes) later, the redness was there but he came back onto the court. Good thing that injury was not as worse as it initially seemed to be.
But in the end, Wisconsin kept draining threes–10 of them to be precise on 12 attempts to win going away 85-78. Arizona got within five with 2 1/2 minutes, but could not get any closer than the one point overtime heartbreaks of 2014 in Anaheim and more infamously, the 15 point meltdown against a zany bunch of Fighting Illini in Rosemont back at the 2005 Elite Eight.
This marked the sixth time since 2003 that Arizona has failed to advance past the Elite Eight–starting with Kansas advancing that year to New Orleans before losing the title game to Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse.
Mind if I briefly flashback to the 2014 Final Four in Arlington, Texas–final seconds on the non-biased TBS call:
Will we have a similar type of ending here in 2015?
More on that in my Final Four preview sometime this coming week.
For now, let us catch our breath after one of the most dramatic games in college basketball history and I will hope to see you all here much earlier tomorrow night after the East and South regions are decided. Michigan State and Louisville will battle again, along with Duke and a team trying to earn its’ very first trip to the Final Four in Gonzaga will round out the quartet and set up the other national semifinal game.