INDIANAPOLIS — After a season filled with enough twists and turns to qualify as a road in the eastern mountains of its home state, Kentucky is making its predicted appearance in the Final Four thanks to a plethora of talented freshmen.
Guard Aaron Harrison drilled a long pull-up 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds left to snap a tie Sunday, and the eighth-seeded Wildcats edged second-seeded Michigan 75-72 for the Midwest Region title at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Kentucky (28-10) will meet West Region champion Wisconsin on Saturday night in a national semifinal at Arlington, Texas. The Wolverines, who lost last season’s national championship game to Louisville, finished 28-9.
Wildcats forward Julius Randle notched his fourth consecutive double-double, posting 16 points and 11 rebounds. Forward James Young tallied 13 points, Harrison scored 12 — nine in the last 4:19 on 3-pointers — and reserve forward Marcus Lee finished with 10 points and eight rebounds. All four are freshmen.
Guard Nik Stauskas scored a game-high 24 points for Michigan, 18 in the first half. Forward Glenn Robinson III added 14 and forward Jordan Morgan contributed 11 points, including a tip-in with 31.5 seconds left to even the score at 72.
After Wolverines guard Caris LeVert committed a non-shooting foul with 10 seconds remaining, the Wildcats set up the winning play. Guarded by LeVert, Harrison took the ball on the left wing, dribbled twice and nailed a 24-footer as the predominantly Kentucky-leaning audience of 35,551 erupted.
Michigan’s final shot was a hurried Stauskas heave from half-court that was wide right as time expired.
The Wolverines looked like the more composed team at the start, establishing a 14-6 lead just over six minutes into the game after Stauskas stuck a 3-pointer.
But Kentucky worked its way back into the game behind a shocking boost from the little-used Lee, who scored just 45 points in 126 minutes entering the game. Lee, playing because center Willie Cauley-Stein (ankle) was injured in Friday night’s win over Louisville, fired up the Wildcats’ large crowd with three rebound dunks in less than two minutes.
Stauskas’ driving layup gave the Wolverines a 32-22 lead with 5:11 left in the half, but Kentucky rallied with a 15-5 spurt to end the half. Randle’s pull-up jumper with 2.7 seconds remaining sent the teams to the locker room tied at 37.
NOTES: Kentucky F Julius Randle recorded his 24th double-double, passing UCLA’s Kevin Love (2007-08) for the second most by a freshman in NCAA history. Kansas State’s Michael Beasley collected 28 in his freshman season (2007-08). … Michigan assistant coach Bacari Alexander and Wildcats assistant Orlando Antigua were teammates on the Harlem Globetrotters in 2000-01. … Wolverines F Jordan Morgan moved past Chris Webber on the school’s career rebounding list in the third-round win over Texas on March 22.
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