Aaron again! Harrison's three at :05.7 sends Kentucky to title game

jtipton@herald-leader.comApril 5, 2014 

  • NCAA championship game

    Kentucky (29-10) vs. Connecticut (31-8)

    When: 9:10 p.m. Monday (CBS)

    Where: Arlington, Texas

ARLINGTON, Texas — The setting was wildly unusual. The exciting finish has become almost customary.

With AT&T Stadium holding the largest crowd in the history of college basketball (79,444), Aaron Harrison shot Kentucky to a victory in this NCAA Tournament ... FOR THE THIRD STRAIGHT GAME.

His three-pointer with 5.7 seconds left beat Wisconsin 74-73 Saturday night. That followed Harrison's game-winners in the final seconds against Louisville and Michigan last weekend in Indianapolis.

The third moved Kentucky (29-10) to the national championship game against Connecticut on Monday night.

"Aaron the assassin," UK Coach John Calipari called Harrison.

For much of the night, the game went according to script.

Kentucky used its size and athleticism to great advantage. The Cats outscored Wisconsin in the paint 46-24, which was two points shy of the season-high margin (24 against nearby UT Arlington in November).

UK took a season-low five three-point shots, but Harrison's only attempt from beyond the arc more than made up in quality what might have been wisely lacking in quantity.

"He's got that clutch gene," Wisconsin's Sam Dekker said of Harrison. "Props to him. You've got to tip your hat when credit's due."

Wisconsin shot well from the perimeter (8-for-20 from three-point range). But Traevon Jackson's jumper at the buzzer missed, which enabled Kentucky to have a chance to duplicate Villanova in 1985 as 8-seeds to win the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin, a 2-seed, finished 30-8.

"I think I got hit on my arm," Jackson said of the final shot.

Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan said he felt "pretty good" when Jackson rose for the shot.

"His favorite place (on the court)," Ryan said. "I felt pretty good when he got to that spot where he's hit shots before. It just didn't go in."

Alex Poythress, who made several big plays down the stretch, put Kentucky ahead 71-69 with 2:14 to go. But Wisconsin leading scorer Frank Kaminsky, who took only seven shots, tied it with a putback at the 1:16 mark.

Kentucky, which had played true to its identity as a power team, wobbled. Andrew Harrison missed a three, which was only UK's fourth attempt from beyond the arc in the game.

With the shot clock inside five seconds, Jackson's shot-fake lifted Andrew Harrison. Jackson made two of three free throws to put Wisconsin ahead 73-71 with 16.4 seconds left.

It was Wisconsin's only miss of the game. "Seventeen-for-17 at this point," Ryan said. "I liked our chances."

Aaron Harrison — who else? — delivered yet again. His moon shot from the left wing over Josh Gasser moved a proud program one step closer to perhaps its most unlikely national championship.

Kentucky trailed 40-36 at halftime, falling behind by as much as nine in the first half. That seemed hardly a big deal since the Cats had not led at halftime in the NCAA Tournament since the opening game against Kansas State.

Wisconsin passed beautifully, making the extra pass more than once to a teammate open for a shot. The Badgers made four of 11 three-point shots to help offset Kaminsky's quiet two-point half.

Kentucky worked almost exclusively in the lane. The Cats enjoyed a 22-10 advantage in points from the paint and a 17-12 rebounding edge. Only three of UK's 26 shots came from beyond the three-point arc.

Freshman Bronson Koenig, who came into the game averaging 3.3 points, made two free throws with 4:13 left to give Wisconsin its largest lead: 34-25.

The shots were part of Koenig's 11-point half and Wisconsin's 14-for-14 accuracy from the foul line in the first half.

Kentucky had its own freshman surprise. Dominique Hawkins' driving layup helped the Cats narrow the deficit to 40-36 at halftime. That marked his first points since the first Mississippi State game on Jan. 8.

Randle, who scored only two points in the game's first 16 minutes, ignited the late rally by scoring seven of his nine points in the final 3:24.

Each team had reason to be relieved at halftime. Kentucky got a mild scare when Randle had to leave the floor to be tended to by medical staff.

Wisconsin continued to function despite two early fouls limiting Jackson to six minutes.

Calipari called timeout 59 seconds into the second half with Kentucky down 43-36. UK scored the next 15 points to take a 51-43 lead. A flying tip by Poythress was part of a run that had every basket scored from the paint.

Wisconsin looked awkward during the UK run, but the Badgers did not fold. Three three-pointers in barely more than two minutes erased Kentucky's lead and suggested a possession-by-possession game to the finish.

Kentucky trailed 67-62 with barely five minutes left. Poythress' driving dunk through Dekker re-emphasized Kentucky's dominance around the basket and zeal to win the game.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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