Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Region? If Auburn had cooperated, it would have been PJ Washington’s podiatrist.
Playing his second game within 48 hours after being sidelined by sprained foot, Washington was Kentucky’s main man.
But Auburn’s star backcourt tandem of Bryce Brown and Jared Harper spoiled the storyline. They combined to score 50 points to lead to a 77-71 overtime victory over Kentucky.
Brown and Harper scored 39 of their team’s final 51 points to propel Auburn to its first Final Four. The Tigers (30-9) also beat a third straight college basketball blue blood, having defeated North Carolina and Kansas in advancing to face UK.
UK finished its season with a 30-7 record. Washington posted a double-double with 28 points and 13 rebounds. But it wasn’t enough. Barely.
Kentucky dodged a bullet to get the game into overtime.
After Harper’s driving layup tied it at 60-60 with 38 seconds left in regulation, UK got two chances to go ahead. Washington and Keldon Johnson missed.
Auburn got its chance to win. But Horace Spencer, who had made three of 17 three-point shots this season, missed from the left wing at the buzzer.
Harper twice drove for scores to put the Tigers ahead 64-60 early in overtime.
Kentucky’s deficit grew to 70-63 with 70 seconds left when Harper hit two free throws.
After a Washington three got Kentucky within 74-71, Auburn clinched the victory by making three of four free throws in the final 16.1 seconds.
Washington’s 15 points in the first half helped put and keep Kentucky ahead.
But led by Brown and Harper, Auburn rallied in the second half. The pair scored 21 of Auburn’s first 28 points after halftime.
Brown scored 17 of those points. The final two — the third in a series of pull-up jumpers in a five-minute span — put Auburn ahead 58-54 with 4:44 left. That matched UK’s largest deficit.
Kentucky turned up the defense. Auburn did not score on its next five possessions.
A post-up by Washington tied it at 58-58 with 2:55 left.
Though Auburn rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit to nearly beat Kentucky in the first regular-season game, the Tigers had not been a comeback team. Auburn had a 25-2 record when leading at halftime, and a 3-7 record when trailing.