INDIANAPOLIS (WDRB) — An Aaron Harrison thunderbolt, a three-pointer from the left corner with 39 seconds left, delivered the latest edition of the Kentucky-Louisville classic to the Wildcats, and sent the Wildcats past U of L 74-69 and into the NCAA's Elite Eight.
Louisville claimed an early 13-point lead and led for the most of the way, but UK never went away. And in the end, its freshmen made their free throws, while U of L's underclassmen didn't.
Foul trouble plagued the Cardinals. Montrezl Harrell fouled out with a minute and a half to play. UK had its share of bad luck. Willie Cauley-Stein left with a first-half injury and did not return. His status for the rest of the tournament is uncertain.
But the status of the Wildcats is that they survived and advanced, in a game that was not for the feint of heart.
The freshman showed the kind of toughness required to beat the defending national champions. And in the end, they did it with defense. Louisville had only one field goal in the final 6:11 of the game, after taking a seven-point lead on a Luke Hancock three.
UK then outscored the Cardinals 17-5 over the final 4:45.
For nearly two minutes the teams sweated it out with 15.9 seconds left as officials reviewed an out-of-bounds call under Louisville's basket. The Cards got the ball back, then Wayne Blackshear was fouled with 14.2 seconds left. He missed the first, then made the second.
The Cardinals forced UK to use its final timeout on the ensuing inbounds play but on the next inbounds, Louisville fouled freshman Julius Randle. And he made both. Russ Smith got an open look from the top of the key, but it was short, Aaron Harrison corralled the rebound, and made both free throws to provide the final margin.
As time ran out, Smith raced under for one final dunk, which he missed. After the game, UK players spent extra time talking to him. He finished the game with a team-high 23 points, and became the school's all-time NCAA Tournament scoring leader.
But he couldn't do enough. UK got balanced scoring. Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson and Aaron Harrison had 15 points each. Andrew Harrison had 14 points and seven assists with only two turnovers. All but six of UK's points came from freshmen.
For Louisville, Luke Hancock finished with 19 points, Montrezl Harrell with 15.
After the game, Pitino called it "the end of an era" for the Cardinals.
"We've done a lot of celebrating, so how can we complain?" Pitino said, noting he expected to lose not only the team's seniors, but Montrezl Harrell, who is pondering a jump to the NBA Draft as a sophomore.