INDIANAPOLIS -- Here are five observations from Kentucky’s 75-72 win over Michigan in the Elite Eight at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
So much drama: Glenn Robinson III's layup with three minutes to play cut Kentucky’s lead to two points. But Dakari Johnson's score extended the edge to four points. With 2:26 to go, Kentucky had a 69-65 edge. This was a battle. Like Hagler vs. Hearns. So many uppercuts, left hooks and jabs thrown. So many bodies on the floor. So many hard fouls. Exactly what you would expect with a shot at the Final Four on the line. Nik Stauskas hit a pair of free throws to cut Kentucky’s lead to two points again late. Wow. Here we are again. Aaron Harrison hit a huge 3-pointer. Robinson hit a huge 3-pointer on the other end. Two-point game again. Ridiculous. Some crazy Jordan Morgan tip-in. Twenty-seven seconds to play. Tied game, 72-72. And then Aaron Harrison hits a step-back 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds to play. Wow. Wow. Wow. Stauskas misses a deep 3-pointer. Game over.
Let’s talk about Marcus Lee: In the first half of Sunday’s game, freshman Marcus Lee had 10 points (5-for-5), four rebounds and a block in nine minutes of action. And we all predicted that, right? Not exactly. Lee was averaging 5.7 MPG prior to Sunday’s ridiculous coming-out-party. The 6-9, lanky big man was the difference in the first half. Without him, Michigan probably would have pulled away. The Wildcats didn’t have Willie Cauley-Stein, who missed the game due to a leg injury he suffered in Friday’s win over Louisville. John Calipari needed someone to step up against a hot Kentucky team. And Lee did that. Gave his team quality minutes when it needed them.
LeVert, Stauskas, Robinson chemistry: Michigan isn’t the only talented trio in college basketball. But few trios work together as well Stauskas, Robinson and Caris LeVert. Michigan was clearly undersized. And the Wolverines don’t have Kentucky’s depth (see: Marcus Lee). But on both offense and defense, LeVert, Robinson and Stauskas helped the team stay alive. They just play with a rare balance. They’re all smart players. And they’re all aggressive players. But there’s no hero ball here. They search for the best shot. And that’s why Michigan made a push toward its second consecutive Final Four.
Julius Randle: The 6-9, 250-pound big man had six points and four rebounds in the first half. He’d gone 2-for-7 at the break. Part of that was the result of poor shot selection. But the future lottery pick cleaned up his act down the stretch and began to dominate in the second half. With six minutes to play in the game, he had 16 points and 10 rebounds. He just attacked and attacked and attacked. And when he does that, he’s unstoppable. He’s a force.
Big plays for Morgan: Few were as big as Morgan’s three-point play with 4:47 to play. That play cut Kentucky’s lead to one point, 62-61, with 4:34 remaining on the game clock. But Aaron Harrison responded with a huge 3-pointer of his own to give Kentucky a four-point edge again. Morgan comes back with another dunk seconds later to make it a two-point game. He’s not a one-and-done. He’s not even a four-and-done. But he was huge for Michigan throughout the tourney.