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 freshmen 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 freshman 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.
Michigan 73, Tennessee 71
INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan coach John Beilein had watched his team blow almost all of a 15-point lead, and he was sure he knew how Tennessee would try to take the lead.
With six seconds left and trailing 72-71, Cuonzo Martin would probably send the ball into Jarnell Stokes, who would try to back into the post or drive. Beilein urged his defenders to buckle down and keep Stokes away from the rim.
Jordan Morgan, who scored 15 points, heeded his coach’s advice and stood his ground until Stokes lowered his shoulder. The senior forward immediately crashed to the floor — perhaps embellishing the contact — but drawing the call that saved the game for Michigan and infuriated Tennessee’s “Rocky Top” contingent.
Big Ten player of the year Nik Stauskas made a late free throw and nobody was more relieved than Beilein when Jordan McRae’s 70-foot heave fell harmlessly to the floor as the buzzer sounded on a 73-71 Michigan victory.
“We got just enough stops,” Beilein said.
Tennessee thought they got one stop unfairly.
“With the magnitude of this game, I don’t think you could call a charge at that point,” McRae said dejectedly after scoring 24 points.
But the officials did call it, allowing Michigan to reach a second straight regional final.
Michigan State 61, Virginia 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.
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.
These were the first NCAA tournament games played at Madison Square Garden since 1961.
UConn 81, Iowa State 76
NEW YORK — DeAndre Daniels scored 27 points, 19 in the second half, and UConn held off Iowa State 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).
By wire sources