Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 74, #2 Wisconsin 73

Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2014

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Rush the Court is covering the Final Four from Arlington, Texas, this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Aaron Harrison, Redux.

Aaron Harrison, Redux.

  1. Stone. Cold. Aaron. Harrison. Wow, just wow. Every time you think that these Cats have run out of lives, they just continue to make just enough plays, often in astonishing fashion, to survive and advance. One Wildcat in particular — freshman guard Aaron Harrison — has taken the notion of clutch to a whole new level. One week after drilling a long contested three to send the Wildcats to the Final Four, he drilled another from very near the same spot to push his team into a National Championship game that few would have anticipated several weeks ago. After the game, he said that he didn’t feel like he has a clutch gene, but we’d beg to differ. The fact of the matter is that Harrison, along with many of these Kentucky kids, are supremely confident in their gifts, which gives them the requisite swagger to both take and make these big shots.
  2. Calipari’s Tweak Has Worked. For any number of reasons, whatever Calipari and his staff were doing for the first three-quarters of this season only marginally worked. The Wildcats only had one five-game winning streak all season long, and that was from mid-November to early December against the likes of Robert Morris, UT-Arlington, Cleveland State, Eastern Michigan and Providence (average KenPom rank = #131). Kentucky’s current five-game winning streak includes wins over Kansas State, Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin (average KenPom rank = #13). Even accounting for a four-month lapse in time from those games, it’s not like the Wildcats set the world on fire in the SEC either, with a 12-6 league mark. Since the postseason began, though, Calipari has seemed to successfully remove the pressure from the heads of his kids by simplifying the game for each of them at an individual level and referring to sorcery and magic to keep the media at bay. No matter the reason, it’s worked and it’s still working. After all of the ups and downs throughout the season, Kentucky finds itself exactly in the position that many expected before the realities of a long and growth-filled regular season came to pass. Calipari is many, many things, but his best attribute is simply getting players to believe.
  3. Wisconsin is Crushed, But Has No Reason To Hang Its Head. The Badgers did everything required to win this game, as it held a two-point lead with six seconds left against a team running an isolation play for a mediocre shooter beyond the three-point line. In most scenarios, Bo Ryan’s team walks away with a win there and we’re not talking about the Wisconsin players being crushed (and they were absolutely heartbroken, make no mistake about that). But considering that Ryan’s program made the leap this season by getting to his first Final Four and eschewing some of the (deserving) reputation that the Badgers were a defense-only grind-it-out team, he is poised to start making these events more frequently. Hopefully tonight’s game, where the Badgers proved it could go toe to toe offensively with a boatload of NBA prospects, will help to combat some of that perception. Even better for Wisconsin, Ryan expects everyone except for Ben Brust back next season. Expect a top five national spot in the 2014-15 preseason polls for the Badgers.

Star of the Game. Aaron Harrison, Kentucky. He didn’t have an outstanding all-around game tonight, as the Badgers’ defense limited the freshman guard to 3-of-8 shooting for eight total points. But it was his massive three from almost the exact spot he hit one last weekend against Michigan that fell through the net and propelled the Wildcats to the National Championship game. One of only two Wildcats’ threes on the night, it was another dagger from a young man filling a treasure chest full of March moments.

Quotable.

  • “Whoever had the ball last [pause] that could make a shot was going to win the game.” – Kentucky head coach John Calipari, going with a comment that he knew halfway through didn’t make sense.
  • “Another good game.” Calipari‘s entire opening statement to the assembled media.
  • “When we get down 10, it’s amazing how we play. [...] They have been ridiculed, criticized… [with] DESTRUCTIVE criticsm. They got that kind.” — Calipari, discussing how his freshmen play better when their backs are against the wall, and how much they’ve been criticized all season.
  • “Coach said he wanted me to take the shot. [...] Nah, I don’t think so. [big smile] I mean, if they were open, yeah.” — Aaron Harrison, referring to the game-winning play and whether he considered passing the ball off to another player.
  • “Nah, I don’t think so. [big smile] I mean, if they were open, yeah.” — Aaron Harrison, responding to a question as to whether he was going to take the game-winning shot.
  • “We have a record. I mean, were you 4-2 this week for USA Today? We have a record, recruits see that.” — Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan, describing the state of his program and how they’re evaluated.
  • “I think you have to go with a total body of work, and say, in this situation, he got it done. [...] I don’t think it’s a gene. [...] He’s done something about it.” – Ryan, referring to whether players like Aaron Harrison have a clutch gene.

Sights & Sounds. Other than the sound that 40,000 blue-clad fans make when a long three-pointer drops through the net…

One of the more amusing moments of the evening was when former Wisconsin and current Denver Bronco running back Montee Ball tried to join his team’s student section in a full-on frog outfit. The NCAA people wouldn’t let he and his buddies (dressed as a cow and a leopard) through, however, and it was probably for the best given how the game ended. Still funny, though.

Montee

Montee Ball Gave a Good Effort But Couldn’t Get Down to the Student Pit

What’s Next? A supremely tantalizing match-up between two of the most prominent basketball schools in America, as Kentucky advances to play Connecticut in Monday night’s National Championship game. Throw out the seedings next to each team’s name here — these are two programs that expect to win championships. When they talk about hanging banners in Lexington and Storrs, they’re not talking about conference titles. Given how both teams have managed to get here, expect this game to be dynamic.

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