The Louisville Cardinals and Kentucky Wildcats have a long history and the teams added another epic chapter to their rivalry book on Friday. Kentucky came away with the 74-69 win to advance to the Elite Eight in a game that came down to the final seconds. Louisville's Russ Smith missed a potential game-tying three-pointer to seal the game for Kentucky.
The two teams went back and forth all game, trading huge baskets and highlight plays. While it was just one of many crucial plays down the stretch, freshman Aaron Harrison's three-pointer with 40 second to play may have been the shot of the game. Trailing, 68-67, Harrison buried a three from the corner to give the Wildcats the lead.
They never trailed again. Julius Randle and Harrison combined to go 4-of-4 from the line in the final seconds to ice the game.
The game could not have started off much better for Louisville. The Cardinal mounted an early 13-1 run, going up, 18-5. Louisville's early success was punctuated by a high-flying dunk from Smith.
To make matters worse for Kentucky, center Willie Cauley-Stein injured his ankle when he attempted to plant and get back on defense. Cauley-Stein appeared to be in immediate pain, came out of the game and did not return. Without one of their defensive stoppers and in an early hole, it appeared it might be a long night for the Wildcats. They changed the tide quickly, however, surging back then slowly chipping away at the Louisville lead. The Wildcats were able to pull within two, eventually trailing by three, 34-31 at halftime.
The pace picked up in the second half and the team traded blows in the up-and-down contest. A Randle layup tied the score at 38 with 14:53 to go. That was only a sign of things to come with the teams taking turns making runs. Louisville appeared to be pulling away, leading by seven with less than 4:30 to play, but once again, Kentucky had a response. In addition to trading runs, the teams also traded highlight-reel plays, with James Young throwing down a huge alley oop dunk.
An 11-4 run by Kentucky tied the game at 66, with less than three minutes to play. Alex Poythress, who played well filling in for Cauley-Stein, drew a foul with 1:26. The foul was the fifth on Montrezl Harrell, fouling him out. When Poythress connected on the second free throw, it gave the Wildcats their first lead since they went up, 2-0. That was the beginning of a wild final stretch which saw multiple lead changes, huge plays from both sides, and one of the most-entertaining finishes of the tournament.
Both teams got contributions from up and down the roster. Randle finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds for Kentucky while Dakari Johnson scored 15 points. The Harrison brothers combined for 29 points. For Louisville, Smith carried the offensive load, scoring 23 points. Hancock, with 19 points, and Harrell, with 15 points and eight rebounds, also had big games.
By surviving and pulling out a win, Kentucky will advance to the Elite Eight for a matchup with No. 2 Michigan State.