Kentucky Will Face Connecticut for NCAA Basketball ChampionshipErik Matuszewski
The University of Kentucky and University of Connecticut both won at the Final Four to set up college basketball’s most improbable championship game matchup since the national tournament started seeding teams in 1979.
Kentucky and its five freshmen starters rallied to beat Wisconsin 74-73 as Aaron Harrison hit a winning three-pointer in the closing seconds for the second straight game. Connecticut upset top-ranked Florida 63-53 in the first semifinal in Arlington, Texas.
“Whoever had the ball last and could make a shot was going to win the game,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said in a televised interview after last night’s game.
The Wildcats were seeded eighth in their 16-team region and tied the record for the lowest seed to reach the championship game at the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament. Connecticut became the first seventh seed in the past 36 years to make the title game.
The championship game is scheduled for tomorrow at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys.
Villanova was the only team seeded lower than sixth to win the NCAA tournament, winning as an eighth seed in 1985.
The combined seeding of Kentucky and Connecticut is the lowest since the NCAA tournament began seeding teams in the bracket in 1979. The previous record was 11, when UConn was a No. 3 seed and beat eighth-seeded Butler for the most recent of its three titles.
Kentucky twice rallied during the second half to knock off Wisconsin, which was the second seed in the West Region.
After a 15-0 scoring run just after halftime erased a seven-point deficit, the Wildcats again came from five points down in the final six minutes. With Kentucky trailing 73-71, Harrison hit a contested three-pointer with 5.7 seconds left.
“I’m pretty confident,” Harrison said in a televised interview. “I’ve hit some big shots down the stretch.”
Harrison had also hit a winning three-point shot with three seconds left in Kentucky’s previous game, sending the Wildcats to the Final Four with a 75-72 victory over Michigan.
Wisconsin, seeking its first trip back to the national title game since winning its lone championship in 1941, had the final shot, but Traevon Jackson missed a jump shot at the buzzer. Sam Dekker and Ben Brust each scored 15 points for the Badgers, who finish the season with a 30-9 record.
Connecticut erased a 12-point first half deficit in today’s first national semifinal to end Florida’s 30-game winning streak. DeAndre Daniels had 20 points and 10 rebounds for UConn, which had been the the last team to beat the Gators (36-3), winning 65-64 on Dec. 2.
Connecticut’s starting backcourt tandem of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright combined for 25 points and nine assists, while Florida guards Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II were limited to seven points on 3-of-12 shooting.
“We just couldn’t really get anything going,” Wilbekin told reporters after the game. “They were being really aggressive, and we couldn’t really get into our offense.”
Connecticut, listed by oddsmakers as a 7-point underdog against Florida, trailed 16-4 midway through the first half before going on a 27-5 scoring run to take the lead for good.
While Florida was the top overall seed in the tournament, Connecticut reached the Final Four after being seeded seventh in the 16-team East Region, where the Huskies had upset wins over No. 2 Villanova, No. 3 Iowa State and No. 4 Michigan State. Two schools previously reached the NCAA tournament title game as eighth seeds: Villanova in 1985 and Butler in 2011.