Pushed to the brink, Kentucky’s still perfect and still playing.
Andrew Harrison made two free throws with six seconds remaining, and the top-seeded Wildcats kept their unbeaten season and national title hopes intact with a 68-66 win over Notre Dame on Saturday night in the Midwest Regional final.
The Wildcats (38-0) advanced to the Final Four in Indianapolis next week, where they will meet Wisconsin.
It took everything Kentucky had to hold off the Fighting Irish (32-6), who came within seconds of shocking the tournament’s overwhelming favorite. Notre Dame, which has a history of stunning upsets in football and basketball, wasn’t done until Jerian Grant’s double-clutch 3-pointer from the left corner was long.
Kentucky’s bench stormed the floor and the Wildcats, who only had one other two-point game this season, celebrated knowing they had ducked a major challenge and are now just two wins from becoming the first team to go undefeated since Indiana in 1976.
“We didn’t play very well and Notre Dame, I thought, controlled the whole thing, but we made the plays,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We figured out a way to win it. We’re just saying one more game, play our best. We’ve had other tests, but we have a will to win.”
Karl-Anthony Towns scored 25 to lead Kentucky, which trailed for most of the second half.
Zach Auguste scored 20, Steve Vasturia 16 and Grant 15 for the third-seeded Fighting Irish, playing in their first regional final in 36 years.
There was no doubt Notre Dame belonged. The ACC tournament champions controlled the tempo and weren’t intimated by the Wildcats and their collection of high school All-Americans and soon-to-be NBA millionaires.
Calipari insisted on Friday his team was not perfect, only unbeaten and that any team left in the tournament was capable of toppling the top Cats.