Late 3-pointer lifts Kentucky by Wisconsin; Wildcats to meet UConn in national final

Connecticut's Niels Giffey (5) gets past Florida's Michael Frazier II to score as Connecticut beat Florida 63-53 in the first semifinal game of the Final Four at AT&T Stadium Saturday night in Arlington, Texas.
Vernon Bryant | MT
Connecticut's Niels Giffey (5) gets past Florida's Michael Frazier II to score as Connecticut beat Florida 63-53 in the first semifinal game of the Final Four at AT&T Stadium Saturday night in Arlington, Texas.
Posted April 05, 2014, at 9:14 p.m.
Last modified April 06, 2014, at 12:07 a.m.

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.

UConn 63, Florida 53

ARLINGTON, Texas — Connecticut proved its early season victory over top-ranked Florida was not a fluke by punching its ticket to the national championship game with a 63-53 victory over the Gators on Saturday night in the Final Four.

The Huskies (31-8) rallied from an early 12-point deficit to upend the only No. 1 seed to reach the semifinals. UConn did it with poise and execution before a packed AT&T Stadium.

UConn will be playing for its fourth championship and its first under second-year coach Kevin Ollie.

The Gators (36-3) were bidding to get back to the national championship game for the first time since their second of two consecutive titles in 2007. Two of Florida’s losses this season came at the hands of Connecticut, which also won 65-64 on Dec. 2. The Gators had won 30 in a row since then.

UConn forward DeAndre Daniels repeatedly got behind Florida’s defense for layups in the second half as the Huskies took control of the game. Daniels finished with a game-high 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field and grabbed 10 rebounds.

All-American guard Shabazz Napier added 12 points and six assists for the Huskies. Guard Ryan Boatright scored 13 points and forward Niels Griffey added 11.

UConn shredded the vaunted Florida defense, shooting 55.8 percent from the field (24 of 43) while controlling the tempo in the second half.

Florida’s balance — a virtue throughout the season — did not come through when it mattered most. Center Patric Young scored 19 points and forward Casey Prather had 15, but senior guard Scottie Wilbekin, the SEC Player of Year, had more turnovers (3) than made baskets (2) and scored just four points.

The Huskies began the second half where they left off in the first, scoring the first six points to take a 31-22 lead. Down as many as 10 (37-27), the Gators got back into it with an 8-2 spurt capped by Young’s jump hook. The Huskies responded and had the lead back into double digits down the stretch.

Florida jumped out to quick 7-0 lead, prompting Ollie to call for a timeout.

The stoppage did not settle the Huskies as the Gators kept the pressure on, especially on the defensive end as Connecticut struggled to get a good look.

Florida dominated the boards at both ends in taking a 16-4 lead midway through the half.

The Huskies finally caught fire and began getting stops, reeling off an 11-0 run that prompted a timeout from Gators coach Billy Donovan. UConn nailed three 3-pointers during the spurt, including two from Daniels.

Giffey’s three-point play with 3:18 left in the half gave the Huskies their first lead (21-20) of the game. The Huskies took a 25-22 lead into halftime, with Daniels leading all scorers with 10 points.

After a slow start, UConn shot 47.6 percent (10-21) in the first half. The Gators cooled off considerably, dipping to 34.8 percent (8 of 23). Florida hit just 1-of-7 3-pointers compared with 4 of 7 for Connecticut.

NOTES: UConn owned a 6-1 record in four previous Final Four appearances entering the game, winning national championships in 1999, 2004 and 2011. … Florida also made four previous Final Four appearances and entered with a 5-2 record at the Final Four, with titles in 2006 and 2007. … Florida has played each of the other three Final Four teams this season, going 3-2 in those games. All three wins came against SEC rival Kentucky.

 

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