Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, March 30, 2014
Breathless. There is no better word to describe the Michigan-Kentucky Elite Eight game in the Midwest Region in Indianapolis.
The game epitomized what has been a thrilling NCAA tourney. Up and down the court they went in a game that seemed to be played at 120 mph at times. It was a track meet inside Lucas Oil Stadium, as the teams traded runs, momentum and plenty of punches. Each took turns grabbing the lead ? and then losing it. And it all was wrapped inside a tight, 40-minute drama-packed package.
[ MORE: UConn upsets Michigan State | Dienhart: Unfinished business for Spartans ]
So, it was fitting this game ended with Kentucky?s Aaron Harrison draining an impossibly long 3-pointer with a hand in his face with 2.6 seconds left to give the Wildcats the 75-72 win.
Crazy. Just crazy.
Moments earlier, the Wolverines had tied the game with a thrilling possession that featured not one, not two, not three, but four shots off offensive rebounds.
Watch the play below:
Are you kidding me?
Michigan had one last shot, but Nik Stauskas? halfcourt heave missed. And, just like that, the air was taken out of the Wolverines? season.
There will be no return trip to the Final Four for Michigan. There won?t be multiple Big Ten teams in the Final Four for the first time since 2005.
There will be just one: Wisconsin, which will be the next team to take on this uber-hot Kentucky team, squaring off in Arlington, Texas, next Saturday night.
Yes, Michigan is disappointed. Still, this team maxed out its potential. It will be difficult to look back on 2013-14 with any regret or disappointment in Ann Arbor. Just a great run by John Beilien?s crew. Take a bow.
Michigan came out flying, building an early 10-point lead. But No. 8 Kentucky used a 15-5 run to close the first half to forge a 37-37 halftime tie as each team shot over 50 percent.
Stauskas showed why he was the Big Ten Player of the Year, coming out smoking in the opening 20 minutes by hitting 5-of-7 shots and tallying 18 first-half points. Playing for the injured Willie Cauley-Stein, freshman Marcus Lee stepped up with 10 points in the opening 20 minutes. James Young also had 10 in the first half.
The No. 2 Wolverines got to this point by beating No. 15 Wofford, No. 7 Texas and No. 11 Tennessee after winning the program?s first outright Big Ten regular-season title since 1986. Few thought Michigan would reach such dizzying heights with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., off early to the pros and Mitch McGary playing just eight games because of a bad back.
But here was Michigan, knocking on the door of the Final Four a year after losing the national title game to Louisville. But, it wasn?t to be.
This is a white-hot Kentucky team that has stacked blue-chipper upon blue-chipper. It?s a shameful amount of talent that didn?t blend until late in the season after opening the yer as the No. 1 team in the nation. In fact, there was a time when it looked like it never would blend.
Credit John Calipari.
The fast-talking coach with the slick-backed hair collects five-star recruits like 8-year-olds collect Pokémon cards. There is stud after stud after stud. Julius Randle, James Young, Aaron and Andrew Harrison ? and on it goes.
In some ways, Calipari?s ability to massage egos and get all of these mega talents to meld is more impressive than a coach developing a group of three-star players for four seasons.
No doubt, Calipari doesn?t get enough credit. Like his one-and-done philosophy or curse it, Calipari has shown he can make it work, winning the national title in 2012. And it?s impressive to watch.
Entering this game, Michigan has been shooting well from long range in the Big Dance, hitting 7-of-17 vs. Wofford; 14-of-28 vs. Texas; 11-of-20 vs. Tennessee. Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson, III, Zak Irvin and Co., have been on fire. Stauskas has hit 10-of-23; LeVert 6-of-12; Robinson 4-of-8; Irvin 5-of-11.
That continued today, as Michigan hit 47 percent of its shots and 39 percent from 3-point range. Stauskas was Stauskas, scoring 24 points. Robinson had 14 points, Jordan Morgan had 11. But the Wolverines got eaten alive on the glass, losing the rebounding battle, 35-24.
And, this is just a better and more talented Kentucky team that has knocked off No. 1 Wichita State and No. 4 Louisville, in addition to taking down Michigan today. Add it up, and UK has now won 10 NCAA games in a row.
Can Wisconsin withstand the fury of this Kentucky team? It?s going to be fun to find out.
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|
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