Tag: March Madness


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.

Defense and toughness lifts Stanford to unlikely Sweet 16 status

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ST. LOUIS — As Chasson Randle sat at the podium following the Cardinal upset victory over No. 2 seed Kansas on Sunday afternoon, the junior guard, and Stanford’s leading scorer, was asked if he felt motivated by Jayhawk freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden not knowing who he was after the duo was asked about him at Saturday’s pre-game press conference and didn’t know how to respond.

“We definitely saw that video. (Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins) told me not to talk about it,” Randle said as he and his head coach shared a laugh. “But, you know, I definitely took it as a challenge. So did my teammates. It wasn’t just a stab at me, it was a stab at our team. And we took it as a challenge. And it was a little bit extra motivation for today’s game.”

Dawkins and Randle have plenty of reason to smile after Stanford’s win over Kansas on Sunday. Despite shooting 0-for-9 from the three-point line and turning the ball over 16 times against Kansas, Stanford is on its way to an unlikely Sweet 16 appearance against No. 11 seed Dayton in Memphis on Thursday because of the toughness and determination they showed against Kansas on the defensive end of the floor.

MOREKansas loses to No. 10 Stanford | Bill Self’s fifth tourney loss to No. 9 seed or lower

“We beat a very good Kansas team. I could not be any more proud of my guys and how they played for 40 minutes tonight,” Dawkins said. “I thought the energy, the effort, especially on the defensive end, is probably as good as I have seen it all season long. I was really proud of the way our guys stepped up when they made runs and was able to sustain some momentum at the end.”

The Stanford defense was a major reason why the Cardinal are moving on and why they’re a major contender to make the Elite 8. The length of Stanford’s defense gave Kansas issues for the entire game and senior forward Josh Huestis relentlessly shadowed Kansas star freshman forward Andrew Wiggins when Stanford didn’t switch into a 2-3 or, briefly, a 1-3-1 zone. Wiggins finished with four points on 1-for-6 shooting and was limited to single digits in points for only the fifth time this season.

“We wanted to make it difficult for (Wiggins) to do anything. And him being young, we wanted to see if he would work for it after he got a little frustrated and as you saw, he started to defer,” Huestis said. “He only took six shots and scored four points so the coaches gave us a great game plan. He stopped moving as much, he wasn’t looking for his shot nearly as much and wasn’t trying to rebound as much. So we did a great job.”

Kansas head coach Bill Self also acknowledged that Stanford’s overall length presented a major problem for the Jayhawk offense as Kansas was limited to 32 percent shooting (19-for-58) for the game.

“They played better, made more plays, made the most of their inside touches and we struggled scoring over their length,” Self said.

“We definitely spent a lot of time talking about — and preparing for — their bigs,” senior center Dwight Powell said. “And the way they like to attack the rim. Very athletic team. So I guess it was definitely one of our focuses to just be physical and have guys in the lane and be ready to help because they were quick on drives. And make sure we made the proper rotations.”

Powell was also big on the offensive end for Stanford as he went for a team-high 15 points. With the senior center playing well, the Cardinal are a different ballclub and Powell bounced back from an 0-for-8 shooting night against New Mexico in the Round of 64 as he fouled out with only three points and four rebounds.

“Dwight has had an amazing career here for us. He has been one of our leaders. He was one of my first elite recruits. And he’s responded,” Dawkins said. “And so when he had a tough time, you know, I know he is mature enough to bounce back. I know no one was feeling any worse about his performance the other night than Dwight. So what I wanted to tell Dwight is make sure he concentrates on the things he does very well every night and the rest will just happen. And I thought he did that tonight.”

Not many probably expected Stanford to go through St. Louis unbeaten, but for an experienced team like the Cardinal, it’s something they’ve worked towards all season.

“I think every season, something we talk about (is) every season is like a lifetime. Obviously you will have your ups and downs throughout different games and throughout different stretches of games,” Powell said. “But from day one — before we even started preseason — we always had a goal to make the tournament and to make a run. And we never lost sight of that and never lost hope, and we never stopped fighting for that every single game regardless of how things were going.”

Upset Watch: Meet the little guys that could win in the Round of 64

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It’s always fun to root for the little guy.

Every year, people across the country always root for upsets in the NCAA Tournament because it brings a unique excitement to America’s most unpredictable sporting event. Whether you’re just purely into the “David topples Goliah” storyline, or you want to be that person that brags to their friends about knowing way too much about Ohio Valley Conference basketball, everyone seems to root for lower seeds to beat some of the most storied programs in America.

PREVIEWS: East Region | South Region | Midwest Region | West Region

Here are five potential upsets in the Round of 64 involved double-digit seeds.

No. 12 seed Stephen F. Austin over No. 5 seed VCU

Winners of 28 straight games, the Lumberjacks went through the Southland Conference unscathed as first-year head coach Brad Underwood has done a tremendous job this season getting this balanced group to bye in. With five starters averaging at least 9.6 points per game — and all five shoot at least 35 percent from the three-point line — Stephen F. Austin is incredibly dangerous on offense thanks to their balance and ability to stretch the floor at all five positions. If the Lumberjacks can handle VCU’s pressure, they could hit enough shots to get past Shaka Smart’s ballclub.

No. 12 seed North Dakota State over No. 5 seed Oklahoma

Senior-laden North Dakota State will be a tough out in the Round of 64 thanks to their tremendous shot selection and leadership. Summit League Player of the Year Taylor Braun is a do-it-all senior forward that shoots it well from everywhere on the floor and senior center Marshall Bjorkland has been in the top-ten in the country the last two seasons in field goal percentage, as he hovered in the mid-60s — percentage wise — both seasons. With the way Oklahoma can give up easy buckets, you have to like Bison’s chances if they can get stops on the other end.

MORE: 8 teams that can win it all | TV times | Bracket contest

No. 12 seed North Carolina State over No. 5 seed Saint Louis

If N.C. State can get past Xavier in Dayton — and they should — they pose a major threat for the rest of the field thanks in large part to sophomore scoring sensation T.J. Warren. The forward is the most ruthless and effeicient scorer in the country not named “Doug McDermott” and he’s a matchup nightmare for nearly every team in the field. Saint Louis is also struggling, having lost four of their last five games entering the tournament. If Warren gets hot enough, N.C. State is a very dangerous team in this field.

UPDATE: NC State beat Xavier, 74-59, on Monday.

No. 11 seed Tennessee over No. 6 UMass

If Tennessee gets past Iowa in Dayton, then they should be a potential upset to watch against No. 6 seed UMass. The Volunteers are playing much better basketball down the stretch and won five straight games before falling to No. 1 overall seed Florida in the SEC Tournament. Four of those wins came by double-digits and the inside-outside combination of Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes is tough to stop. The Minutemen also struggled entering the field as they’ve alternated wins and losses since March began and lost all three games that they played against NCAA Tournament teams during that stretch.

No. 11 Providence over No. 6 North Carolina

After winning the Big East Tournament in dramatic fashion at Madison Square Garden, the Friars are very confident heading into the tournament. Even though senior guard Bryce Cotton is an All-American performer, the Friars won two of the Big East Tournament games with Cotton playing well below his normal output. Providence only goes six deep, but all six players contributed heavily in the Big East Tournament and the Friars can get points and rebounds from nearly everyone on the floor. It’s not that North Carolina is susceptible to a loss as much as Providence is playing well and matches up well with the Tar Heels. This should be a good one.

Have any upset predictions of your own that we didn’t profile? Let us know your Round of 64 upsets — and why — in the comments section.