CLEVELAND — The most riveting game of the NCAA Tournament.
The most dramatic and captivating of the season. Really, in years.
Has to be. With an undefeated season hanging in the balance, college basketball does not and cannot get better than this. Its premier program, Kentucky, in its toughest challenge of the season.
Cleveland was just host to one of the best postseason games this city has ever seen.
Andrew Harrison’s two foul shots with 6.0 seconds left in a 66-66 game fell true.
Notre Dame’s final shot, by Jerian Grant (15 points, six assists), went long and fell wrong. And the dream season is still alive for Big Blue Nation.
Kentucky 68, Notre Dame 66. The Wildcats needed every minute and almost every second to eke past the best opponent they’ve faced this season.
And now an even better one awaits: Wisconsin, in the Final Four. The team most believe is the most ideal candidate to conclude Kentucky’s flawless campaign.
Notre Dame was far and away the best offensive team — OK, the best team, period — UK faced all season. It showed. For 40 minutes, it showed. On nearly every possession, it showed. The Irish held a lead for the majority of the second half thanks to poised play from every single starter: Jerian Grant, Zach Auguste, Pat Connaughton, Steve Vasturia and Demetrius Jackson.
UK’s Karl-Anthony Towns did whatever he wanted in the low post, getting Auguste into foul trouble down the stretch and finishing with 25 points. Notre Dame opted not to double Towns, and you didn’t even need hindsight to know that was the flaw in the Mike Brey’s game plan that kept Kentucky chugging and, in the end, allowed them to push past the Fighting Irish.
Auguste was also huge, though, playing one of the best games of his career and ending with 20 points and nine rebounds. Towns also played with foul trouble. In a 56-possession game, each team wound up at nearly 1.2 points per possession. It had it staggers with timeouts, but on the whole it was an efficient game that riveted the country.
Devin Booker came off the bench to score 10. He was the only player aside from Towns to reach double digits.
Against the best defense in college hoops, Notre Dame had just seven turnovers. Against one of the best offenses in the country, Kentucky had four steals, nine blocks and just 12 fouls.
Kentucky stays alive, somehow, and will move on and play the Badgers in next Saturday’s Final Four.