Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 75, #2 Michigan 72Posted by Walker Carey on March 30th, 2014
- This was an unbelievable game. Just one week after Kentucky beat one-seed Wichita State in what, at the time, was considered to be the best game of the tournament, the Wildcats were once again locked in another epic. In a game that saw seven ties and three lead changes, both Kentucky and Michigan showcased some excellent basketball. The Wolverines exploded out of the gates and built a 10-point lead with 5:10 to play in the first half. The Wildcats then roared back to end the half on a 15-5 run to tie the game at the break. Soon after the second half began, it was Kentucky that stormed out the gates, but Michigan had an answer for every Wildcats run. Kentucky led by seven with 6:31 to play, but the resiliency of John Beilein‘s squad was on display, as it stayed the course and eventually tied the game at 72 with 27 seconds to play. From there, the game belonged to Kentucky freshman guard Aaron Harrison, who hit a very difficult and contested three-pointer with 2.6 seconds remaining to give the Wildcats the 75-72 lead (which turned out to be the final score).
- Marcus Lee was a revelation. Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Julius Randle, and James Young are the Kentucky freshmen that everyone knew about and with good reason, as those five have played a ton of minutes and made a lot of plays that helped Kentucky have the opportunity to even play Sunday. One freshman, however, who had not received much attention this season was forward Marcus Lee. The McDonald’s All-American did not see too much playing time during his freshman season in Lexington. His last points before Sunday came on February 22 and he did not even play in the tournament wins over Kansas State and Wichita State. With Willie Cauley-Stein sidelined with an ankle injury, John Calipari turned to Lee to play big minutes Sunday and that paid off in a big way. Lee gave the Wildcats 10 big points off the bench, while collecting eight rebounds (seven offensive) and being part of an interior defensive attack that made things very difficult for Michigan inside all game. Considering how highly touted Lee was coming out of high school, his production in Sunday’s victory should not be all that surprising. It was just a matter of a talented player getting a chance to make an impact and Lee took full advantage of that chance.
- Aaron Harrison is Mr. Big Shot. Aaron Harrison was struggling. At halftime, the freshman had zero points, two fouls, and was having a hard time stopping Nik Stauskas on the defensive end of the court. Instead of losing confidence in himself and letting the poor play continue, Harrison rose to the occasion in the second half, by knocking down four of his five three-point attempts and hitting the game-winner with 2.6 seconds to play. While that shot got Kentucky to the Final Four, it was not the only important shot Harrison hit during the weekend. In Friday’s regional semifinal victory over Louisville, Harrison nailed a three with 39 seconds to play that gave Kentucky a lead it would not relinquish. Having a clutch performer is very important in the postseason and Aaron Harrison has shown that he is very capable of hitting the big shot.
Player(s) of the Game. Aaron Harrison and Julius Randle, Kentucky. After not scoring in the first half, Harrison exploded for 12 second half points that were all monumentally important to the winning effort. His three-pointer with 2.6 seconds to play in a tie game cemented the victory for the Wildcats. Randle turned in another performance that has come to be expected from Julius Randle. His double-double effort of 16 points and 11 rebounds carried on his streak of compiling a double-double in each tournament game. Randle was once again a beast inside and that was paramount to Kentucky earning the victory.
- “I think we did a good job of fighting all game. Kentucky is a great team and deserves to go to the Final Four.” – Michigan guard Nik Stauskas, commenting on how both teams fought to the very end.
- “They weren’t going to go away and neither were we.” – Kentucky coach John Calipari, acknowledging the tremendous effort put forward by both the Wildcats and Michigan.
- “I just tried to take the best shot I could and it fell.” – Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison, speaking about his three-pointer with 2.6 seconds to play that turned out to be the game-winner.
- “He told the team that I was going to have a big game.” – Kentucky forward Marcus Lee, on what coach John Calipari told the team both yesterday and today.
- “No, we had very little on him. But he does one thing really, really well, and that’s the way he plays above the rim.” – Michigan coach John Beilein, when asked about how much Michigan had on Marcus Lee in its scouting report.
- “When they all just settled in and lost themselves in the team, the game became easier. They became better. They had more fun. They became more confident. And all of a sudden this is what you have. But it took us four months.” – Calipari, discussing what changed within his team that allowed it to make a run to the Final Four.