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Kentucky rolls on, beats defending-champ Louisville

INDIANAPOLIS — What are we supposed to call these guys, the Comeback Kids?

It’s crazy, but Kentucky — the blue blood of blue bloods, a program with advantages galore — is authoring one hell of an underdog story.

First, the Wildcats, seeded eighth in the Midwest, knocked off No. 1 seed Wichita State. A huge upset? Well, no. This is Kentucky we’re talking about.

But now they’ve gone and knocked off Louisville 74-69 in a thriller. Heated, hated rival Louisville. Defending national champion Louisville.

The Cardinals were only a No. 4 seed, but they were the perceived favorite in the Midwest, make no mistake about it. And they acted like it in taking an 18-5 lead. The champs were doing everything right. Kentucky’s all-freshman starting lineup couldn’t get anything right.

Slowly, methodically — but with amazing tension in the building throughout — the Wildcats used their massive size at all positions to chop down the Cardinals.

Seven-footer Dakari Johnson had a breakout performance, scoring 15 points. Julius Randle was his usual dominant self with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Twin guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison, both 6-6, scored 15 and 14, respectively, Aaron’s late three the biggest shot of the game.

Again, size. Everywhere.

It didn’t hurt that the Cardinals missed nine free throws in the first half, six of them by Russ Smith.

Louisville led by between five and 10 points for much of the second half, with seniors Luke Hancock (19 points) and Smith (23) carrying the offense. The Cardinals faltered in the late moments, whether because they ran out of gas or the Wildcats suddenly got too good to be beaten.

It might be the latter.

Kentucky coach John Calipari called it another great game. Louisville’s Rick Pitino called it the end of an era.

Pitino was referring to his team, which was unable to reach a third consecutive Final Four, but he might as well have been talking about Kentucky’s seasonlong inconsistency.

Are the Wildcats really underdogs? Not in the traditional sense. But they’re twice the team they were a few weeks ago. They’re peaking — and you know what that means. Everybody better look out.

Calipari’s record against Pitino as Kentucky’s coach is 6-1. The Wildcats will face Michigan in the Midwest Regional final Sunday.


Twitter: @SLGreenberg

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