College basketball notebook: Youthful Wildcats headline talented crop of teams in Final Four
Young Wildcats take down Michigan
Houston’s own Aaron Harrison came through in crunch time, knocking down a step-back three-pointer with 2.3 seconds left, which has the kids from Kentucky on their way to the Final Four. His big bucket helped Kentucky survive and advance 75-72 against a veteran-laden Michigan squad.
Though the Wildcats are facing injuries to key contributors, their size and athleticism was too much for the Wolverines.
Freshman forward Marcus Lee stepped up big, adding 10 points mostly off of put-back dunks. Lee is stepping in for injured sophomore big man Willie Cauley-Stein. Freshman forward Julius Randle had another double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
This will be the second time in three years that the Wildcats have made it to the Final Four. After being named the No. 1 team in the preseason because of their talented roster that includes three McDonalds All-Americans, Kentucky has had its struggles during the season. At the end of the year, it was not ranked in the top 25. Now Kentucky is playing its best basketball at the right time. With its size and athleticism, it is hard for any team to match up against.
Kentucky has proven this tournament that they can make the plays down the stretch to win a game. This NCAA tournament they have beaten three of last season’s Final Four: a No. 1 seed Wichita State, a No. 4 seed and defending national champion Louisville and No. 2 seed Michigan, which lost in the title game last season.
Kentucky is only one win away from competing for a national title, which is was what Big Blue Nation expects from one of the top programs in college basketball. Kentucky will have its hands full with Wisconsin, which advanced after defeating Arizona 64-63 in overtime.
Napier leads Huskies back to the Final Four
Senior guard Shabazz Napier has been clutch all year and didn’t change inside Madison Square Garden as Connecticut earned a return trip to the Final Four. Napier had 25 points, six rebounds and four assists to lead his team as he has done all year as Connecticut defeated Michigan State 60-54 in the Elite 8.
Huskies head coach Kevin Ollie had big shoes to fill after coach Jim Calhoun stepped down two years ago. Last year, the Huskies were not allowed postseason play due to their academic sanctions. With the first year eligible Ollie has his team on its way to the Final Four like Calhoun did three years ago.
The Huskies were in the new American Athletic Conference this year and competed well, but the committee didn’t think a lot of the conference as several teams were given low seeds. Well, now the Final Four will have one team from the American.
UConn will play Florida, whom they beat earlier this year on a last-second buzzer beater. With confidence already going into the game, it is sure to be another magical Final Four matchup.
Bo Ryan off to his first final Four
Wisconsin needed overtime to take down the No. 1-seeded Arizona Wildcats to advance to the Final Four 64-63.
Frank Kaminsky, a legitimate seven-footer, hit important shots when the Badgers needed them. Kaminsky ended up with 28 points and looked like a man against boys, getting whatever shot he wanted.
“We want a national championship now,” Kaminsky said. “We have made it to the opportunity to get there, so why not go get it?”
Wisconsin has flown under the radar this year. On the big stage, it has shown the college basketball nation it is here to win a championship and now is a game away from competing for one.
Now the Badgers look to the kids from Kentucky, which is sure to make a physical and intriguing matchup.
Seniority for the Gators
Head coach Billy Donavan is on his way back to the Final Four with a group of seniors who want to hold up the national championship in North Texas. Scottie Wilbekin led the Gators with 23 points and was shooting light out from the three-point line as they went on to beat the Dayton Flyers 62-52.
The Flyers’ Cinderella story has come to a stop, while the Gators look to finish out what they started at the beginning of the year by winning a national championship.
This Florida team has a lot of experience playing together, and if you put Donavan with them, you would expect wins and championships. It has been a while since Donavan won back-to-back titles with a group of seniors led by Joakim Noah, but he knows what it takes to win a championship and has told his team how to win.
Now the seniors will take on the Huskies, which is sure to be a good matchup. Florida will have to find a way to contain the guard play of Napier and Boatwright, the best combo guards in the nation. Florida is sure to use its size to dominate in the paint.