Kentucky rides Karl-Anthony Towns to thrilling win over Notre Dame
Kentucky faced perhaps its toughest test of the season in an Elite Eight matchup with Notre Dame on Saturday, but the Wildcats prevailed to keep their perfect season alive and advance to the Final Four.
The Wildcats trailed at various points in the first half and went into halftime tied at 31 with the Fighting Irish. In the second half, they trailed by as many as six points with under six minutes to play before going back-and-forth with the Irish over the final few minutes and eventually winning 68-66.
Karl-Anthony Towns was the star for Kentucky. He set the tone early in the second half by making three baskets and accounting for six of the team’s nine first nine points. They continued to feed him in the low post, and he delivered by scoring 17 of his game-high 25 points in the second half. The freshman forward looked like a future No. 1 overall pick the way he was able to take it to Notre Dame on every possession. Devin Booker, who scored 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting, was the only other Wildcat in double figures.
For Notre Dame, the efforts of Zach Auguste helped them put Kentucky on the ropes. The junior forward scored 20 points on 10-for-13 shooting and added nine rebounds in the loss. Star guard Jerian Grant scored 15 points and nearly went down in history for his efforts, but he faded down the stretch and missed a huge 3-pointer that could have given them the lead. After sinking an enormous three to make it 66-64 Notre Dame with just over two and a half minutes to play, Grant missed his final three shots, including two threes. One of his last-minute 3-point attempts was blocked by Willie Caulie-Stein on a great defensive play by the big man, who was guarding Grant all the way out at the top of the circle. Caulie-Stein had two blocks in the game, while Kentucky combined for nine in the contest, compared to just one for Notre Dame, once again showcasing the elite defense that has made the Wildcats a team on the verge of history.
After the game, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey acknowledged that Kentucky’s size is a challenge.
“(Kentucky’s) size does get to you over the course of 40 minutes,” he said via WDRB’s Eric Crawford.
Not only were the Wildcats stingy defensively, but Brey also said he struggled to find a good defensive solution to stop Kentucky’s offense.
“The one time I go zone, Booker hits a 3. The one time I double, Ulis hits a 3,” Brey vented after the game, via Crawford.
As well as Notre Dame played, they just didn’t quite have enough to take down the 38-0 Wildcats, but they did give Kentucky perhaps its toughest test of the season. You can credit some great defense and clutch shooting by Kentucky for the win. They made their final nine shots, while Andrew Harrison made two big free throws in the final 10 seconds. A deserving Towns was named the Most Outstanding Player of the region.
Kentucky now moves on to the Final Four where they will take on Wisconsin, a team they beat by a point in the Final Four last year to advance to the championship game where they lost to UConn. After watching the way the Badgers played earlier in the day Saturday, fans have to be pumped up for the game.