INDIANAPOLIS — The Kentucky Wildcats trailed virtually all Friday night, but stormed from behind down the stretch to score a season sweep of commonwealth rivals the No. 4 Louisville Cardinals and make an unlikely appearance in the Midwest Region championship game.
Guard Aaron Harrison nailed a 3-pointer with 39.1 seconds left to give the eighth-seeded Wildcats the lead for good in a 74-69 win at Lucas Oil Stadium, assuring there will be a new national champion.
Harrison was just 2-for-12 from the field before that shot, but took a pass from forward Julius Randle and drilled a 22-footer from the left corner as Kentucky fans in a crowd of 41,072 roared.
Center Dakari Johnson, playing more than usual after backup Willie Cauley-Stein appeared to sustain a leg injury early in the first half, supplied 15 points, as did Randle and Harrison. Guard Andrew Harrison added 14.
Guard Russ Smith paced No. 4 Louisville (31-6) with a game-high 23 points, while guard Luke Hancock hit for 19, 14 after halftime. Forward Montrezl Harrell scored 15 before fouling out with 1:26 left in the game.
The Cardinals had a chance to tie it when guard Wayne Blackshear was fouled by Randle with 14.2 seconds left, but he made just one of two free throws.
After Randle sank two foul shots with 13.0 seconds remaining, Smith came up short on a fade-away 3. Aaron Harrison iced it with two foul shots with 2.3 seconds left to finish off a game-ending 15-3 run.
The Wildcats (27-10) will meet Michigan, a 73-71 winner over Tennessee, Sunday for a trip to the national semifinals next weekend in Arlington, Texas.
Louisville came out of the gate flying, establishing an 18-5 lead at the 12:32 mark of the first half as guard Wayne Blackshear slipped behind the defense for a layup.
Kentucky finally gave its large crowd something to cheer about with an 11-3 spurt that got the margin chopped to 21-16 on two free throws by guard Andrew Harrison with 7:24 remaining in the half.
The Wildcats kept chipping away and closed within a point as forward Julius Randle made a free throw with 46 seconds left, but Cardinals guard Russ Smith capped a 15-point half with a driving layup that made his team’s lead 34-31 at the half.
NOTES: Entering the NCAA Tournament, only three Kentucky players — guards Jon Hood, Brian Long and Jarrod Polson — had played in the tournament. Their combined experience was 10 minutes. … This is the sixth meeting between the Wildcats and Louisville in the tournament, with Kentucky owning a 3-2 advantage. … The Cardinals’ third round win last Saturday over Saint Louis was the 50th NCAA Tournament win for coach Rick Pitino, ranking him fourth among active coaches.
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