ARLINGTON, Texas –- Moments after his brother made what could have been a season-ending mistake, Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison drilled the shot that kept the Wildcats’ national championship dreams alive.
Harrison’s 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds left lifted Kentucky past Wisconsin 74-73 and into Monday night’s matchup with Connecticut for the national title at AT&T Stadium.
The one-and-done Wildcats (29-10) advanced after Wisconsin guard Traevon Jackson’s shot at the buzzer rimmed out. Jackson had given the Badgers a two-point lead on the previous possession.
Kentucky is going for its ninth NCAA championship and second under coach John Calipari. The Wildcats also won in 2012.
The veteran-laden Badgers finished the season 30-8 after the program’s first Final Four since 2000 and first under coach Bo Ryan, who finished his 13th year at Wisconsin.
With the score tied 71-71 going into the final minute, Kentucky guard Andrew Harrison badly missed a jumper and had an even bigger blunder at the other end.
With the shot clock running out and Wisconsin nowhere near a clean look, Harrison left his feet and fouled Jackson’s desperation 3-point try with 16.4 seconds left.
Jackson missed the first free throw before making the next two, setting up the final Kentucky try. After trying to get a shot in the post, Aaron Harrison got the ball in the corner and did not hesitate. The ball rattled before falling through the net.
Kentucky forward James Young led all scorers with 17 points. Freshman forward Julius Randle, a sure-fire lottery pick, had 16 and five rebounds. Center Dakari Johnson had 10 points and seven boards.
The Badgers opened the second half with a 3-pointer from forward Sam Dekker (15 points), increasing their lead to 43-36. Calipari called timeout 59 seconds into the half, and his Wildcats were a different team after.
Kentucky exploded with 15 straight points, exploiting their edge in athleticism and attacking the basket. The Badgers got sloppy with the basketball and appeared to lose their grip on the game.
Down 51-43, Wisconsin summoned another push to regain the lead. Forward Duje Dukan and guard Ben Brust (15 points) began knocking down big shot after big shot, and suddenly Kentucky was trailing again.
Wisconsin was the first team to get some separation, taking a 14-9 lead on Brust’s 3-pointer and forcing an early timeout by Calipari. Burst nailed another from deep coming out of the stoppage for a 17-9 edge.
The Wildcats closed the gap by scoring inside, including two point-blank tip-ins by Johnson. Perfectly thrown lobs from Aaron Harrison resulted in dunks for forwards Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress.
The Badgers kept their composure and kept working their offense for open looks. After two layups, guard Bronson Koenig drilled a 3-pointer for a 28-22 advantage.
Kentucky, down as much as 34-25, did pick up some momentum heading into halftime. Randle scored six of his nine first-half points in the last 3 1/2 minutes as the Wildcats went into the locker room down 40-36.
Wisconsin had three players in double figures at the break, led by Dekker with 12 points. Koenig had 11 off the bench and Brust added 10.
NOTES: Kentucky C Willie Cauley-Stein (ankle) sat out the national semifinal. He said Friday that he hoped to play in the Final Four. … Kentucky entered the Final Four with a 115-46 all-time record in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats are the all-time NCAA Tournament wins leader. … By defeating Louisville in the Sweet 16 and Michigan in the Elite Eight, Kentucky is the first team in NCAA history to eliminate the previous season’s national champion and runner-up. … All four teams in the Final Four won previous national championships, but Wisconsin has gone the longest since claiming the title. The Badgers won their lone men’s basketball national championship in 1941. Kentucky won the national title in 2012, Connecticut last won in 2011 and Florida in 2007.
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