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

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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.

No. 8 Kentucky holds off Troy down the stretch for 70-62 win

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kevin Knox scored 17 points and No. 8 Kentucky built a big lead in the second half before having to withstand a late rally by Troy to hold on for a 70-62 victory on Monday night.

After having to rally in each of its previous games, the Wildcats (4-1) led throughout against the Trojans (2-3). They built a double-digit lead early and extended it to 21 twice in the second half, a needed cushion as Troy fought back to within eight on Wesley Person’s three-point play with 1:08 remaining.

Knox came up with the last of Kentucky’s season-high 53 rebounds that preserved its second victory in the Adolph Rupp Classic named for the legendary coach.

Quade Green had 13 points and reserve forward Wenyen Gabriel 12 for the Wildcats. Hamidou Diallo had a career-high 10 rebounds to go along with eight points.

Person had 17 points and Jordon Varnado and Kevin Baker 15 each for Troy.

BIG PICTURE

Troy: Entering the contest averaging 45 percent from 3-point range, the Trojans made just 1 of 14 in the first half and 4 of 27 overall. For a while they were nearly doubled up on the boards as a result and were beaten 53-30. Varnado extended his double-digit scoring streak dating back to last season to 23 games.

Kentucky: After making just 3 of 15 from the free throw line and committing a season-high 22 turnovers against East Tennessee State, the Wildcats improved in those and other statistical categories. They converted 15 of 23 chances, made just 16 turnovers this time and controlled rebounding by a 2-to-1 margin. But their lost focus and allowed the Trojans to make it interesting.

UP NEXT

Troy visits East Tennessee State on Wednesday in the third game of the Rupp Classic before wrapping up play Monday against Illinois-Chicago.

Kentucky hosts Fort Wayne on Wednesday in the third game of the Rupp Classic before taking Thanksgiving off.

Bluiett scores 21, No. 15 Xavier grinds down Hampton 96-60

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CINCINNATI (AP) — Trevon Bluiett followed his fabulous game against Wisconsin with a 21-point performance on Monday night, and 15th-ranked Xavier turned to its reserves while pulling away to a 96-60 victory over Hampton.

The Musketeers (4-0) got ahead by 32 points and took advantage of the chance to get playing time for their newcomers. Freshman Naji Marshall had 12 points and seven rebounds.

Xavier was coming off an 80-70 win at Wisconsin on Thursday night, when Bluiett led the way by scoring 21 of his 25 points in the second half. Against Hampton, Bluiett played 27 minutes.

Jermaine Marrow led Hampton (1-4) with 20 points. The Pirates quickly piled up the fouls while guarding the Musketeers — four of them had four fouls midway through the second half. Hampton coach Edward Joyner Jr. picked up a pair of technical fouls for arguing calls with 2:22 left and calmly walked off the court.

Xavier extended its streak of 33 straight wins over non-conference opponents at the Cintas Center.

BIG PICTURE

Hampton: Marrow is the key to the Pirates’ offense. He led the team in scoring in the first four games, averaging 22 points, including a 31-point performance against Florida A&M. Against the Musketeers, he went 7 of 25 from the field.

Xavier: The Musketeers lost their patience against Hampton’s zone defense in the first half, repeatedly dribbling into the middle of the court and losing the ball. They had seven turnovers in the half, which ended with the Musketeers up 43-31.

UP NEXT

Hampton plays Northern Arizona on Thursday.

Xavier plays George Washington on Thursday in Las Vegas. The Musketeers lead the all-time series 27-9 and have won eight straight, most recently in the 2012-13 season.

No. 12 Cincy holds off Buffalo 73-67.

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GEORGETOWN, Cayman Islands (AP) — Gary Clark scored 24 points and grabbed 14 rebounds and No. 12 Cincinnati held off Buffalo 73-68 on Monday night to close the opening round of the Cayman Islands Classic.

Kyle Washington added 14 points and Jarron Cumberland 13 for the Bearcats (4-0), who had breezed in their previous games.

C.J. Massinburg scored 27 points and 10 rebounds for the Bulls (2-1). Jeremy Harris added a career-high 17 and Nick Perkins 14 as Buffalo cut a 13-point halftime deficit to four with 24 seconds left.

Two free throws by Clark made it 67-57 with 1:52 to play. Perkins hit a 3-pointer with 1:27 to go and Massinburg cashed in on a turnover with another 3 at 56. Clark made two more free throws with 35 seconds to go but Massinburg answered at the line 10 seconds later.

Jacob Evans made a free throw and, after a Buffalo miss, Cumberland slipped free for a dunk, making it a seven-point game with 10 seconds to go. Clark got a late free throw and Massinburg made a layup at the buzzer.

Massinburg had 19 points in the second half but the Bulls couldn’t keep Cincinnati off the line. The Bearcats were 17 of 21 in the second half, 27 of 35 for the game. Buffalo finished 11 for 17 and had two players foul out and four other players with four fouls.

Buffalo grabbed an early lead but two Nysier Brooks free throws put the Bearcats up 13-12 at the 13:20 mark and shortly after that a 12-0 run, built by five different players, made it 27-14. Cincinnati didn’t score after Cumberland’s layup at the 3:52 mark but the Bulls only got a layup and it was 39-26 at the half. Cumberland had 10 at intermission.

BIG PICTURE

Buffalo: Perkins and Dontay Caruthers fouled out for Cincinnati, Massinburg, Montell McRae, Davonta Jordan and Brock Bertram had four each. … Buffalo was outrebounded 43-39 but was plus-3 on the offensive end. … The Bulls were looking to go 3-0 for the first time since 1986-87. They went 2-0 for just the fifth time at the Division I level.

Cincinnati: Clark had 17 points in the second half and picked up his 20th double-double. … The Bearcats won their first three by an average of 41.3 with a rebounding difference of 25 a game. … Cincinnati isn’t going to get a chance to boost its strength of schedule as Iowa was bounced by Louisiana-Lafayette 80-71 in the opening game of the tournament.

UP NEXT

Buffalo takes on UAB on Tuesday.

Cincinnati takes on Richmond.

LaVar Ball’s CNN interview on refusal to thank Trump as as disastrous as you’d expect

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LaVar Ball made it to CNN.

He spent 23 minutes being interviewed like by Chris Cuomo before the network cut to a panel discussion for the show’s second segment, and all of it over whether or not Donald Trump deserved to get a thank you from Ball for any help that he may have provided in getting LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill out of a Chinese jail.

The details of what actually happened do not matter at this point.

What does matter is that LaVar knows how to make a mountain out of a molehill. He knows that the simple act of refusing to thank the President of the United States will turn this into a thing. He knows that it will get him attention and get his name in headlines on every website in America. He knows that it will land him interviews with CNN and only further push the Big Baller Brand into the American consciousness. Getting on CNN means he has access to a different demographic than who typically watches ESPN or uses twitter and FaceBook.

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Hell, my mom texted me about LaVar being on CNN.

This is a well thought out plan. While the interview was as much of a trainwreck – absolutely hilarious, but a trainwreck nonetheless – the only line that you really need to pay attention to from the entire ordeal was this:

“What is the skepticism about? Why are we even talking about this with all these political matters going on in the world?”

Even LaVar Ball knows that the attention that he gets is ludicrous.

And he’ll laugh about it all the way to the bank.

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No. 8 Kentucky holds off Troy down the stretch for 70-62 win

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kevin Knox scored 17 points and No. 8 Kentucky built a big lead in the second half before having to withstand a late rally by Troy to hold on for a 70-62 victory on Monday night.

After having to rally in each of its previous games, the Wildcats (4-1) led throughout against the Trojans (2-3). They built a double-digit lead early and extended it to 21 twice in the second half, a needed cushion as Troy fought back to within eight on Wesley Person’s three-point play with 1:08 remaining.

Knox came up with the last of Kentucky’s season-high 53 rebounds that preserved its second victory in the Adolph Rupp Classic named for the legendary coach.

Quade Green had 13 points and reserve forward Wenyen Gabriel 12 for the Wildcats. Hamidou Diallo had a career-high 10 rebounds to go along with eight points.

Person had 17 points and Jordon Varnado and Kevin Baker 15 each for Troy.

BIG PICTURE

Troy: Entering the contest averaging 45 percent from 3-point range, the Trojans made just 1 of 14 in the first half and 4 of 27 overall. For a while they were nearly doubled up on the boards as a result and were beaten 53-30. Varnado extended his double-digit scoring streak dating back to last season to 23 games.

Kentucky: After making just 3 of 15 from the free throw line and committing a season-high 22 turnovers against East Tennessee State, the Wildcats improved in those and other statistical categories. They converted 15 of 23 chances, made just 16 turnovers this time and controlled rebounding by a 2-to-1 margin. But their lost focus and allowed the Trojans to make it interesting.

UP NEXT

Troy visits East Tennessee State on Wednesday in the third game of the Rupp Classic before wrapping up play Monday against Illinois-Chicago.

Kentucky hosts Fort Wayne on Wednesday in the third game of the Rupp Classic before taking Thanksgiving off.