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Marla Ridenour on Sports

Kentucky 68, Notre Dame 66: Marla Ridenour's final thoughts on the Harrisons, not playing to lose

By Marla Ridenour Published: March 29, 2015

Twenty-five final thoughts for the 25 points Karl-Anthony Towns scored as undefeated Kentucky advanced to the Final Four for the 17th time in program history. It is in search of its ninth NCAA title and its first since 2012.

1. Kentucky coach John Calipari made sure to point out that twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison are still the Wildcats' catalysts. Andrew made two game-winning free throws with six seconds remaining; Aaron hit a big 3-pointer with 3:15 left to give UK a 64-63 lead.

2. "Andrew and Aaron still drive this team," Calipari said. "They drove us last year to the final game and they're doing the same thing this year."

3. No one would argue the impact of Aaron's 3-pointer or Andrew's final play. But Calipari's comment shows how little statistics mean on a team that is 10-deep. Andrew Harrison finished with seven points, all on free throws, along with three rebounds, two assists and a steal. He took only two shots from the field. Aaron Harrison scored six points (hitting 2 of 7 field goals) and added four rebounds.

4. Andrew was in charge on the Kentucky's final play. After Notre Dame coach Mike Brey took his final timeout with 33.7 seconds, Andrew said he was told to hold the ball until 9 seconds remained. Then he drove to the basket, drawing a foul from Demetrius Jackson.

5. "Coach told me to go at 9, I think I went a little bit before that," Andrew said. "It was wide open, I decided to take it."

6. Calipari deliberately didn't call a timeout to set up the play. "They didn't have a timeout and I wasn't going to call one and let Mike design something crazy," Calipari said. "With eight to nine seconds to go he was to take it. We had some stuff working on the backside, something for Willie (Cauley-Stein) over the top. He drove in and he got fouled, I watched it. It was close, but (Jackson) moved. Andrew tried to avoid him, which made him move instead of just jumping, which is something we do work on a lot but he's been great at."

7. Brey said the game was virtually over when the Irish failed to get the defensive stop on Kentucky's final possession. "When we couldn't get the key stop to get it to overtime, that's where you lose the game, really," Brey said. "You've got to get that stop. It was Harrison, I think, right, that made the drive? Demetrius tried to get the charge. You don't get a stop there, you know, you're starting to doubt a little."

8. One of the reasons the Harrisons spurned the NBA and returned for their sophomore seasons was to get back to the Final Four after the Wildcats went 29-11 and lost to Connecticut 60-54 in the 2014 championship game. Asked how it felt to return to the national semifinals, Andrew said, "It's a blessing. Go down there and try to focus and try to win two games." Aaron had something else on his mind. "We're definitely not finished. We still can get better with two more games left in the season. We will improve this weekend and go down there a different team."

9. There's one thing Kentucky can't improve on. It didn't miss a shot in the final 12:05, not counting free throws.

10. One of the things it must improve on, Calipari said, will be pick-and-roll defense. "That side pick and roll stuff is not my team, that's on me," he said.

11. Freshman Karl-Anthony Towns will be an NBA lottery pick, but Calipari admitted he was a liability defensively against Notre Dame.

12. "We had to switch Karl in and out because of the foul trouble, I wanted him off the floor. Not only foul trouble, he was defensively hurting us," Calipari said.

13. That said, Towns, 6-foot-11, finished with 25 points, hitting 10 of 13 field goals, five rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot. He was coming off a one-point performance Thursday against West Virginia.

14. "He was unbelievable, and my staff was telling me, 'Take him out, he's not guarding,'" Calipari said of Towns. "I was like 'He's the only guy scoring, I've got to leave him in.' So I was trying to leave him -- then he started taking himself out on defense. But offensively, by the time this season winds down, I want people to look and say, 'Wow, a big man, can make free throws, can score around the basket, can play pick and roll defense, not today, but he can. Blocked shots, makes his free throws.' That's what you want, and I'll tell you, he's the greatest kid."

15. Towns scored 17 points in the second half, hitting all eight of his field goal attempts. He said it got to a point where he felt unstoppable.

16. "It did. I mean, I felt very confident in myself and just made confident moves," Towns said. "I listened to the coaching staff and I was just making shots."

17. Kentucky didn't have three consecutive defensive stops until Notre Dame's final three possessions. Asked how that happened, Andrew Harrison said, "Desperation, probably. We had no choice or we were going to lose." "We just focused, when our back's against the wall, do what we have to do to win the game," Aaron Harrison said. Added Devin Booker, "We've been in that position a few times this year. Each time we try to start with stops, and we know that will lead to offense and that's what we've been doing."

18. As for the desperation word, Calipari said, "I don't think we ever talk about it. They were in every huddle saying, 'Let's go, it's time.' My thing is in these games, we can't help the other team. We helped Notre Dame a lot today. I think they're a great offensive team and they did some stuff and got us in some different positions and situations that were not good. My thing is 'Just keep playing, man, keep playing. We'll figure it out.'"

19. The Wildcats weren't sure if there was value in being pushed to the limit by Notre Dame.

20. "I don't know about that," Aaron Harrison said. "I would rather play well and win by a lot than play a close game like that. But yeah, I mean, we know our will to win. And it just showed us we never give up, and we fight to the end just like any other team."

21. Calipari said, "They did enough, and they wanted to win, they do have a will to win, and I know that. I know that, I've coached them, I know they'll make plays. It's just a matter of you have to keep the game close enough so they can."

22. Kentucky trailed by six, 59-53, with 6:14 remaining, but Calipari said he never allowed himself to think the undefeated season might be over. Kentucky (38-0), which takes on Wisconsin Saturday, is seeking to become the first undefeated national champion since Indiana in 1976.

23. "My mind is never on we may lose," Calipari said. "My whole mindset all the time is 'How are we going to win this game?' I want them to know we're not playing not to lose; we play to win. That means be aggressive offensively. And so I'm telling you, I was trying every combination I could just to keep us in the game."

24. Calipari thought Kentucky showed its youth, yet still outlasted a determined Notre Dame team to win.

25. "We're undefeated, but we're not perfect. We showed that tonight," Calipari said. "We're really young and showed it tonight a ton. We had some turnovers that were like, 'What did you just do? You just threw them the ball.' We did some things that we work on every day ... We drove baseline, stepped out of bounds. There were things that we did that showed our youth. But that being said, you still have a will to win."
 

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