ARLINGTON, Texas (MCT) – The setting was wildly unusual. The exciting finish becoming almost customary.
With the largest crowd in the history of college basketball watching (79,444) in AT&T Stadium, Aaron Harrison once more shot Kentucky to a victory in this NCAA Tournament
His three-pointer with 5.7 seconds left beat Wisconsin, 74-73, on Saturday night. That marked the third straight game Harrison made a winning three-pointer in the final seconds.
The third moved Kentucky (29-10) to the national championship game against Connecticut. The No. 7 seed Huskies upset the tournament's overall No. 1 seed, the Florida Gators, 63-53, in Saturday's opening game.
Harrison's shot was rich irony. For much of the game, things went according to script.
Kentucky used its size and athleticism to great advantage. The Cats outscored Wisconsin in the paint 46-24, which was two points shy of the season-high margin (24 against UT Arlington in November).
UK took a season-low five three-point shots, but Harrison more than made up in quality what might have been wisely lacking in quantity.
Wisconsin shot well from the perimeter (8-for-20 from three-point range). But Traevon Jackson's desperation jumper at the buzzer missed badly, which enabled Kentucky to have a chance to duplicate Villanova in 1985 as 8-seeds to win the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin, a 2-seed, finished 30-8.
Alex Poythress, who made several big plays down the stretch, put Kentucky ahead 71-69 with 2:14 left. His layup off a lob gave UK a 46-22 advantage in points from the paint.
But Wisconsin's leading scorer, Frank Kaminsky, who took only seven shots, tied it with a putback at the 1:16 mark.
Kentucky, which had played true to its identity as a power team, wobbled. Andrew Harrison missed a three, which was only UK's fourth attempt from beyond the arc.
With the shot clock inside five seconds, Jackson's shot fake lifted Andrew Harrison. Jackson made two of three free throws to put Wisconsin ahead 73-71 with 16.4 seconds left.
Aaron Harrison _ who else? _ delivered yet again. His moon shot from the left wing over Josh Gasser with 5.7 seconds left put Kentucky ahead 74-73 and one step from arguably the proud program's most unlikely national championship.
Kentucky trailed 40-36 at halftime. That seemed hardly a big deal since the Cats had not led at halftime in the NCAA Tournament since the opening game against Kansas State.
Maybe that's why Michigan's Chris LeVert suggested last weekend that the Cats' distinguishing feature was "their relentlessness.
"We went up 10 in the first half," he said after the Midwest Region finals in Indianapolis. "They didn't stop fighting."
Kentucky trailed by as much as nine in the first half. Freshman Bronson Koenig, who came into the game averaging 3.3 points, made two free throws with 4;13 left to give Wisconsin its largest lead: 34-25.
The shots were part of Koenig's 11-point half and Wisconsin's 14-for-14 accuracy from the foul line in the first half.
Kentucky had its own freshman surprise. Dominique Hawkins' driving layup helped the Cats narrow the deficit to 40-36 at halftime. That marked his first points since the first Mississippi State game on Jan. 8.
Kentucky's Julius Randle, who scored only two points in the game's first 16 minutes, keyed the late rally by scoring seven of his nine points in the final 3:24.
The first half went true to form. Wisconsin passed beautifully, making the extra pass more than once to a teammate open for a shot. The Badgers made four of 11 three-point shots to help offset leading scorer Frank Kaminsky's quiet two-point half.
Kentucky worked almost exclusively in the lane. The Cats enjoyed a 22-10 advantage in points from the paint and a 17-12 rebounding edge. Only three of UK's 26 shots came from beyond the three-point arc.
Each team had reason to be relieved at halftime. Kentucky got a mild scare when Randle had to leave the floor to be tended to by medical staff.
Wisconsin continued to function despite two early fouls limiting Jackson to six minutes.
John Calipari called timeout 59 seconds into the second half with Kentucky down 43-36. He must have said something good, because UK scored the next 15 points to take a 51-43 lead. A flying tip by Poythress was part of a run that had every basket scored from the paint.
Wisconsin looked awkward during the UK run, but the Badgers did not fold. Three three-pointers in barely more than two minutes erased Kentucky's lead and suggested a possession-by-possession game to the finish.
Kentucky trailed 67-62 with barely five minutes left. Poythress's driving dunk through Sam Dekker re-emphasized Kentucky's dominance around the basket and zeal to win the game.