Three Hits: Kentucky trumps Cards, rolls into Midwest final
Here are three things we gleaned from Kentucky’s 74-69 win over defending national champion Louisville, a stunning comeback victory that vaulted the 8th-seeded Wildcats to Sunday’s Midwest Regional final (against Michigan):
But it’s funny how things can turn on a dime, especially with the Cardinals (31-6 overall) committing two turnovers down the stretch and registering only three points in the final 4:33 (one field goal, one free throw).
Kentucky’s final flurry began with an innocent-looking dunk from reserve Alex Poythress (six points, four rebounds). A Julius Randle layup then sliced Louisville’s lead to three, setting up perhaps the game’s most important sequence:
With the Wildcats possessing the ball, Randle missed a short jumper, got his own rebound and then missed a follow-up shot from two feet. That’s when Poythress swooped in, amid a crowd of bigger Cardinals and Wildcats, and converted an and-one layup, along with the free throw, to knot the game at 66-all.
In hindsight, things might have been different for Kentucky (27-10 overall), if Cauley-Stein had been available for the entire game. But then again … the Wildcats might also be going home if the Cardinals hadn’t booted 10 of 23 free throws.
It was a curious final shot for the Cardinals, essentially bypassing the opportunity to rub Smith off a screen or two on his way to launching a desperate, but feasible heave. Nor did they seek the guidance of Hancock — the only Louisville shooter with multiple threes against Kentucky.
Instead, while at the top of the key and his team down three, Smith took one tentative dribble to the left and fired an off-balance floater that had no chance of finding the bottom of the net.
And therein lies the differences between Harrison and Smith: Yes, the senior outscored the freshman 23-15, but a closer look at Smith’s box score reveals two ugly truths — making just one of seven three-pointers and converting just four of 10 free throws.
How’s this for odd, though: Smith didn’t attempt a single free throw in the second half.
As for Harrison, of his last six games (five victories), the guard has averaged 17.3 points — a mode of progress that includes multiple made three-pointers for each outing.
As for Michigan’s offense, when you’re hitting double-digit threes and shooting above 50 percent from long range … perhaps the size and girth of a prospective opponent really doesn’t matter.