Kentucky started preseason No. 1, faded out of the picture, then came of age as five freshmen led the Wildcats to North Dallas this weekend and the Final Four of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Aaron Harrison made a 3-pointer from NBA range with 2.3 seconds left Sunday to lift Kentucky to a 75-72 win over Michigan in Indianapolis and a trip to the Final Four.
A few hours earlier at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Connecticut upset Michigan State 60-54 to return to the Final Four a year after the Huskies were barred from the NCAA tournament.
So the matchup will be Florida against UConn and Wisconsin facing Kentucky when the Final Four begins Saturday.
Harrison, one of five freshmen on eighth-seeded Kentucky’s starting lineup, elevated over Caris LeVert, and drained it. He scored all 12 of his points over the last 8:05 of the Midwest Regional final.
Nik Stauskas missed a heave at the buzzer and the Wildcats (28-10) rushed off the bench and dogpiled Harrison at midcourt.
This will be Kentucky’s 16th trip to the Final Four and it marks the first time an all-freshman starting lineup has made it there since the Fab Five took Michigan in 1992.
Kentucky plays Wisconsin on Saturday in Texas.
Stauskas led the second-seeded Wolverines (28-9) with 24 points.
UConn’s comeback win over Michigan State was keyed by guard Shabazz Napier who scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half.
Napier, the East Regional’s most outstanding player, hit three huge free throws with 37.6 seconds left to carry UConn to the Final Four just as Kemba Walker did in Napier’s freshman year.
The Huskies (30-8) rallied from a nine-point second-half deficit to become the first No. 7 seed to reach the Final Four since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Fourth-seeded Michigan State’s seniors become the first four-year players recruited by Tom Izzo to fail to reach the Final Four. Gary Harris led the Spartans (29-9) with 22 points.
The undersized Huskies matched Michigan State’s physical play box-out for box-out, holding the Spartans to just six offensive rebounds and six points in the paint. UConn dared Michigan State to shoot 3-pointers, and the Spartans nearly made enough, going 11 for 29 from behind the arc.
UConn won its third national title in 2011, but the Huskies were ineligible for last year’s tournament because of previous low scores on the NCAA’s academic progress measure.
Ryan Boatright made four steals as UConn used its quickness to force 16 turnovers. DeAndre Daniels shut down Branden Dawson, who scored 24 points in Michigan State’s Sweet 16 win over top-seeded Virginia. Dawson attempted just three field goals, making one, to finish with five points.
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