The Kentucky Wildcats have done things all season to give fans collective heart attacks, but as anyone could see from their undefeated record, things always end well. Saturday night against the Fighting Irish, there were six specific times that members of the Big Blue Nation were experiencing heavy breathing, high stress and most likely intense perspiration caused by none other than their beloved Cats. We know how the story ends now looking back, but at the time, these moments were ripping our hearts in two and bringing the majority of us to tears in the close 68-66 victory over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
When they almost went into halftime down 2
Kentucky had led at the half in all of their post season games until they played the Fighting Irish. What was almost an ominous superstition for Kentucky fans was turned into a ray of light for the Cats when Trey Lyles tipped in a 2-pointer at the buzzer to send his team into the locker room tied at 31 with Notre Dame.
When they were down by 4 for almost a 5-minute stretch in the 2nd half
With the exception of a Karl-Anthony Towns made jumper at 12:58 to cut the Notre Dame lead to 2, the Cats trailed by 4 for nearly five minutes of the second half. This became a problem for Kentucky and its fans because the last time Kentucky trailed in a tournament game, they lost to UConn. Things started to look much better for the Cats after Willie Cauley-Stein’s dunk assisted by Aaron Harrison and the score proceeded to be back and forth for the remainder of the game.
Tyler Ulis’ 3-pointer with 5:56 remaining to cut the Notre Dame lead to 3
Following Steve Vasturia’s made three pointer for Notre Dame, Cal made an important time out call to compose his team who was then down by six. Coming in from that timeout was Tyler Ulis and a major three pointer that brought the Cats within one possession of tying the score. Just when you thought all hope was lost, one of Kentucky’s best players under pressure made a huge shot and BBN was in cardiac arrest…or at least I was.
Aaron Harrison/Jerian Grant back-to-back 3 pointers
With 3:18 to go, Tyler Ulis passed the ball to Aaron Harrison and told him to shoot. So in classic Aaron Harrison form, he made the biggest shot of the game from way behind the arc and put the Cats up one. And then the worst possible thing happened. Jerian Grant came right back down the floor following a Notre Dame timeout and within 12 seconds of Harrison’s three, made a big shot of his own and put the Fighting Irish up 2. The rhythm of Big Blue Nation’s heart went from an excited beat to a petrified one.
Notre Dame’s offensive rebound that became Notre Dame’s turnover
Talk about LONGEST. REVIEW. EVER. With the game tied at 66 and Notre Dame with the ball, Willie Cauley-Stein made an incredible block that turned into Notre Dame getting the ball back…but with only one second on the shot clock. After waiting for what felt like an eternity for the officials to review whether it was Kentucky’s ball or Notre Dame’s ball and what exactly was even going on, they determined the ball went out on Kentucky. Notre Dame somehow managed to get a shot off as well as an offensive rebound, but the shot clock ruled it a turnover and it became the biggest emotional roller coaster BBN could experience in the span of two seconds.
When Andrew Harrison hit the game-winning free throws
As if it weren’t bad enough what we were put through last tournament season, the game was tied 66-66 with 34 seconds remaining and Notre Dame called a timeout. This gave Kentucky time to figure out what they were going to do for their last-second shot attempt that would decide either more game time or a Final Four trip for the Cats. What was birthed was Andrew Harrison’s brilliant drive to the basket and a side step by Demetrius Jackson that resulted in a foul. Harrison, a 79% free throw shooter on the season stepped up to the line and sank both shots to put the Cats up by two with six seconds remaining and the rest is history.
And now the Cats are heading to their 17th Final Four for a rematch against the Wisconsin Badgers. This is the first back to back rematch of two teams in the Final Four in recent history. We know what happened the last time these two teams met to fight for a spot in the Championship game, and let’s hope that story repeats itself in favor of the Cats again on the road to perfection.