Big Blue Links: Perfection pursuit moves on to Indianapolis

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Big Blue Links for Sunday:

Kentucky coulda/shoulda lost, but didn’t, says Mark Bradley of the AJC. “It won because Willie Cauley-Stein blocked Jerian Grant’s 3-point try with 34 seconds remaining and ran downcourt with the fleet guard to induce an air ball on the game’s final shot. It won because Andrew Harrison, Aaron’s twin, drove into the Notre Dame defense and got fouled and made the winning free throws with six seconds left. It won, somehow, won on a night when losing seemed the more likely outcome.”

Kentucky climbs last major hurdle, writes Ian O’Connor of espn.com. “Liberated by this near-death experience, Kentucky can go ahead and reach past Wisconsin in the semis and past Duke or someone else in the final and complete the perfect season. The Badgers are a terrific team with NBA talent on their front line, and Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker will test this Kentucky team every bit as much as they tested Kentucky at the Final Four last season, when Aaron Harrison stole the game on his dagger of a 3.”

Undefeated Kentucky withstands Notre Dame, writes Chuck Culpepper of the Washington Post. “Yet as Kentucky’s still-unbeaten players rushed furiously to center court for a hopping, leaping victory scrum after their 68-66 escape, it was clear Notre Dame’s tip-top mien had done something else: It had ladled an extra layer of flattery upon Kentucky. If the team that aims to become a cog in college basketball history could withstand a Notre Dame that proficient, then it will earn its decades of plaudits. If it could play the last five minutes of a two-hour palpitation with a telltale 12-5 binge, then it must be made of rare material.”

Desperation fueled Kentucky’s thrilling comeback, says my column. “This time, both twins played hero. Aaron hit a three with 3:14 left to give UK a 64-63 lead. Then it was Andrew who played hero, driving the ball to the basket and picking up a blocking foul from Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson with exactly six seconds remaining and the game tied at 66. The sophomore point guard coolly sank both free throws to give Kentucky the lead.”

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Running some numbers on UK’s win over Notre Dame

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CLEVELAND — Running some numbers on Kentucky’s Midwest Regional final win over Notre Dame.

– As you might expect, considering Notre Dame is the third most efficient team on offense in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy, Notre Dame’s points per possession were the highest against Kentucky all season. Notre Dame averaged 1.175 points per possession, topping Ole Miss’ 1.110 in that overtime game back on January 6.

– It was just the seventh time this year that the Kentucky defense allowed more than a point per possession this season. This came after UK allowed just 0.619 points per possession against West Virginia on Thursday night.

– Kentucky averaged 1.183 points per possession after averaging 1.215 points per possession against West Virginia.

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John Calipari: ‘Andrew and Aaron still drive this team’

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CLEVELAND — Transcript from Kentucky’s press conference after win over Notre Dame.

MODERATOR: We’ll let Coach Calipari open with a statement.

COACH CALIPARI: I’m really proud of the guys. All we did, we were just scratching to stay in the game. I don’t know if our breakdowns, until I watch the tape, were us or Notre Dame being that good offensively. And I’ll tell you the thing on the side pick and roll and the empty side pick and roll, that’s on me as a coach. We never figured it out, we tried doing some different things and they just kept scoring on that, and Mike did what he should have, just kept going back at it. It was nice to see Aaron do what Aaron does, just a huge 3. It was great to see Andrew play an okay game, but make the plays down the stretch. It was great to see in the second half, us able to throw at Karl Towns, and they either were scoring or you got to leave somebody. And then Tyler makes that 3 in the corner. But we were just fighting to stay in the game, to be honest with you, and it was nice to see how it finished for these kids.

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Mike Brey: ‘The size does get to you over 40 minutes’

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CLEVELAND — Transcript from Notre Dame press conference after loss to Kentucky.

MODERATOR: Welcome Coach Brey, let him open with an opening statement and then we’ll take questions.

COACH BREY: What a great college game. It was thrilling to be part of it. It lived up to the hype. We’re extremely disappointed. We really thought we had a great chance of beating them, and I thought we displayed that, but I think you’ve got to give them credit, they made some big plays, they made some timely three-point shots at key times. And we got a little stagnant offensively, but it’s easy to get stagnant against that length. It takes its toll on you at times, but I’m proud of our group, man. We emptied the tank tonight, and that’s all I asked them to do before the game.

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Three quick things as Kentucky reaches the Final Four

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CLEVELAND — Three quick things from Kentucky’s 68-66 win over Notre Dame in the Midwest Region final.

1. To be honest, I thought Kentucky was beat. When Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia coolly knocked home a three-pointer with 6:14 left and Notre Dame led 59-53, I could see 37-1. Instead, UK is 38-0 and headed to the Final Four.

For the first time in the second half, Kentucky got three straight stops — and it happened to be on the game’s final three possessions.

Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant missed a three-pointer with the shot clock running down and the Irish up 66-64. After Karl-Anthony Towns tied the game at 66, UK’s Willie Cauley-Stein blocked Grant’s three on a possession that ended up as a shot-clock violation. Then after Andrew Harrison’s two free throws put Kentucky up 68-66 with six seconds left, Stein and Andrew Harrison stayed step-for-step with a dribbling Grant, forcing him to miss a heave at the buzzer.

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Liveblog: Kentucky-Notre Dame in NCAA Tournament

Live Blog Liveblog: Kentucky-Notre Dame in NCAA Tournament
 

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Video: Kentucky-Notre Dame preview and predictions

CLEVELAND — Trey Lyles isn’t the only one with an “Old Man’s Game” when it comes to hoops. Here’s Jerry Tipton and myself talking about Saturday night’s Kentucky-Notre Dame matchup.

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A look at the Kentucky-Notre Dame basketball history

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CLEVELAND — Kentucky and Notre Dame have a long basketball history, with plenty of it set at old Freedom Hall in Louisville, where for many years the two teams met annually either on or near New Year’s Eve.

In fact, when Kentucky fans think of the Irish, they think of Digger Phelps, who back then was the brash young coach at Notre Dame and relished the rivalry with the Cats. That was before Phelps’ television career as, what the Big Blue Nation believe, a Wildcat antagonizer.

Phelps was just 4-12 against Kentucky. One of the more famous UK-Phelps games happened in 1976-77, when No. 6 UK took down the then second-ranked Irish 102-78 in Freedom Hall. The next year, a No. 1-ranked Kentucky beat Notre Dame 73-68 in Louisville. Both teams went on to the Final Four that season. UK won the title. It was the last time Notre Dame has been to a Final Four.

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Big Blue Links: Reading material to occupy the wait

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It’s a long day of waiting for the 8:49 p.m. tip when No. 1 seed Kentucky meets No. 3 seed Notre Dame in the Midwest Regional final for a trip to next week’s Final Four in Indianapolis. So here’s some reading material to pass the time.

Big Blue Links for Saturday:

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Kentucky-Notre Dame statistical comparisons

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CLEVELAND — Let’s take a look at how No. 1 seed Kentucky and No. 3 seed Notre Dame match up statistically heading into Saturday’s Midwest Regional final.

Notre Dame excels on offense. Ken Pomeroy ranks the Irish No. 3 nationally in offensive efficiency. Notre Dame shoots 51.1 percent from the floor, including 39.2 percent from three-point range. Overall, Mike Brey’s club averages 1.221 points per possession.

Kentucky excels on defense. Pomeroy ranks UK No. 1 nationally in defensive efficiency. UK allows just 0.828 points per possession. Opponents are shooting just 34.8 percent from the field and 26.7 from three-point range.

Both teams are excellent at the free throw line. Notre Dame shoots 74.2 percent from the stripe. UK shoots 72.5. The Cats get not quite five more free throws per game than Notre Dame.

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