Aaron Harrison’s clutch three-pointer lifts Kentucky past Michigan


INDIANAPOLIS — Before the season, Kentucky — the No. 1 team in America in the preseason — was expected to advance to its 16th Final Four in program history.

With a loaded roster that included seven McDonald’s All-Americans and potential NBA players coming off of the bench, many believed Kentucky would coast to its third Final Four in the last four years and ludicrous talk of a 40-0 season was even present.

But John Calipari’s young team had many bumps in the road, and after a 24-10 regular season, the Wildcats entered the Midwest Regional as the No. 8 seed. Kentucky peaked at the right time, however, as the Wildcats knocked off their third consecutive team from last season’s Final Four with a thrilling 75-72 win over No. 2 seed Michigan on Sunday in the Elite 8 of the Midwest Regional.

With the game tied 72-72 with 27 seconds left, Kentucky went to Aaron Harrison for the game’s deciding bucket as the freshman shooting guard nailed a contested three-pointer from the left wing with 2.3 seconds left to give the Wildcats the 75-72 lead. After a timeout, Michigan’s Nik Stauskas (24 points) missed a three-pointer near the time line as Kentucky mobbed each other at center court.

A massive weight had been lifted off the Wildcats’ chest.

“I wasn’t really there for my team in the first half and I knew I had to knock down some shots at the end and that’s what I did,” Harrison said after the game.

Scoreless in the first half, Harrison knocked down four three-pointers in the second half to help send Kentucky to the Final Four for the third time in the last four seasons under Calipari.

After an entertaining 37-37 first half, Kentucky started the second half on an 8-2 run before the Wolverines hit some shots and got back in the game to take a 55-53 lead with 10:52 left. But the Wildcats made a strong final push — as they have all tournament long — and didn’t trail for the final 8:52 of the game.

Freshman forward Julius Randle recorded his fourth consecutive double-double of the 2014 NCAA Tournament with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Wing James Young knocked in multiple clutch — and Michigan momentum-killing — three-pointers to finish with 13 points while Lee came off the bench to score 10 points and grab eight rebounds after scoring nine points total in all of 2014.

Despite struggling to hit shots for much of the game, Andrew Harrison finished with eight points, six assists and three rebounds for the Wildcats.

Kentucky (28-10) bested No. 9 seed Kansas State, 56-49, previously-undefeated No. 1 seed Wichita State, 78-76, and No. 4 seed and last year’s NCAA champion Louisville, 74-69 before Sunday’s win to reach the Final Four in Arlington, Texas.

In a season in which the headlines were dominated by a strong freshmen class, Kentucky’s elite group of first-year players — headlined by six McDonald’s All-Americans — are the only ones left standing after Kansas’ Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins and Duke’s Jabari Parker didn’t make it out of the first weekend of games.

The Wildcats started five freshmen again on Sunday and two other freshmen — forward Marcus Lee and point guard Dominique Hawkins — came off the bench to provide a key lift for Kentucky.

Kentucky’s freshmen seem to be coming together on both ends of the floor at just the right time and many people would say they’re the most talented team in the Final Four, despite losing three times this season to No. 1 overall seed Florida — a fellow SEC Final Four team.

The Wolverines (28-9) finish this season coming up just short of a second consecutive Final Four. Stauskas led all scorers with 24 points while sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III added 14 points. Battling foul trouble for much of the game, senior center Jordan Morgan finished with 11 points for Michigan.

No. 8 seed Kentucky moves on to face No. 2 seed Wisconsin, the winner of the West Regional.

Big South moving 2016 conference tournament

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The Big South is moving its 2016 men’s basketball tournament out of Coastal Carolina and a new site will be figured out by November. According to a release from the conference the Big South is using a league bylaw that stipulates that members leaving with less than two years of notice are not eligible to host championships. Coastal Carolina announced this summer that it would be leaving for the Sun Belt as of July 2016, so the Big South wants to find a new location that benefits teams staying in the league.

The Big South men’s and women’s conference tournaments are now also going to be split into two unique events, with the men’s championships being held Thursday-Sunday, March 3-6. The women’s event comes the next week from March 10-13. Bids for both events will come into the league and a new location will be selected in the next few months.

It will be interesting to see if the site of the conference tournament is moved to a campus site or placed at a neutral venue. That type of thing could alter how the NCAA tournament autobid gets played out. With Coastal Carolina coming off of back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, this obviously changes their approach to the postseason now that they have to leave their city.

Virginia Tech could redshirt sophomore guard

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Virginia Tech is trying to decide what to do with injury sophomore guard Ahmed Hill, who had surgery this summer to deal with a tear in his patella tendon in his left knee.

The 6-foot-5 Hill has still not been released to work out with the team, but he is about a week to 10 days ahead of schedule in his rehab. But the injury is still nagging enough that Hill might not be healthy enough to really contritbute this season. Head coach Buzz Williams is deciding soon whether he wants to redshirt Hill or not.

Hill started a team-high 30 games for the Hokies last season, averaging 8.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.

“I don’t have a decision on (Hill),” Williams said to reporters on Monday. “I will make the final decision. I’ll let (him) and his mom be a part of it, but I want to make a decision using the wisdom of doing this for a long period of time. If you let a kid make the decision, they always want to play.

“Right now, I don’t feel comfortable that I would want to play him. It’s just too early to be able to have much more of an answer than that.”

It’s still a rebuilding year for Virginia Tech, but they do get Maryland transfer Seth Allen, who is a talented guard who can score. The Hokies were hoping to have Hill and Allen as complimentary perimeter scorers, but now the plans might have to be altered. Williams went on to say that he would like to make a decision on Hill’s status by Halloween.