Three Key Takeaways.
- What a game. That was without question the best game of this year’s NCAA Tournament and if you take a step back it ranks up there in terms of all-time NCAA Tournament games as well. If that desperation three by Jerian Grant had dropped you could make a case for this being the greatest game in NCAA Tournament history and that shot being the greatest as well (only the 1992 Duke-Kentucky game with Laettner would compare). You had a pair of sensational offensive performances from Zach Auguste (20 points) and Karl-Anthony Towns (25 points) who each went 10-of-13 from the field in keeping their teams in contention. Although Notre Dame only went 4-of-14 from three tonight, they seemed to hit nearly every big three except for the final one. On top of that, both teams made huge plays down the stretch. The game, which was already being played at a very high level, ramped up to another level when Aaron Harrison and Jerian Grant hit massive and deep three-pointers on consecutive possessions. In the end, Andrew Harrison was able to step up and hit two clutch free throws followed by Grant’s desperation shot, and the Wildcats survived with their undefeated season intact as they head to Indianapolis.
- Notre Dame was not afraid. It sounds ridiculous to say that the ACC champion should be intimidated by anybody, but perhaps the most important thing that Notre Dame did today was to treat Kentucky like any other team on its schedule. Notre Dame is clearly talented, but outside of Grant and maybe Jackson, none of the Irish players would get significant minutes in Kentucky’s rotation (more a reflection of Kentucky’s ridiculous depth than Notre Dame’s lack of talent). For much of the season, the narrative has been that to beat Kentucky you need to hit three-pointers and avoid engaging them in the paint where their size can overwhelm you. Notre Dame did just the opposite of that early, forgoing the three and taking it right at the Wildcats. The final box score will show that Irish hit four three-pointers on the night, but they only hit one in the first half (on just five attempts) and the ones later in the game were the result of penetration and phenomenal ball movement.
- You need to be lucky (and really good) to go undefeated. Credit Kentucky for finding a way to win yet again, but this was their stiffest challenge all season long. They have played several tight games over the course of the year, but this was the first time that they were in a game against a team this good and unlikely to beat itself. No matter how good you are, however, you need a little luck to get through these types of games. Kentucky might not have been at its absolute peak tonight, but they played well, and unlike UNLV in 1991, Kentucky found a way to survive its own upset (at least for now). Having said that, the Wildcats could have easily folded or imploded especially when Notre Dame went up by six points with 6:14 left. Instead they showed they are more than just the most talented college team we can remember by showing their mental toughness and finding yet another way to win. There was never really a question of whether they would play together; instead, it was a question of who would step up and they found plenty of players who were capable of making big plays on both ends down the stretch.