Notre Dame loses to Kentucky in Elite Eight
Mike Monaco | Sunday, March 29, 2015
CLEVELAND — Jerian Grant sprinted to the left corner of the court and heaved up a contested shot. It missed long. The horn blared.
Notre Dame fell — two points, mere inches, precious seconds — from a momentous victory, as No. 1 seed and undefeated Kentucky survived the No. 3 seed Irish, 68-66, in the Elite Eight on Saturday night at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
“What a great college game,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “It was thrilling to be part of it. It lived up to the hype. We’re extremely disappointed. We really thought we had a great chance of beating them.”
Kentucky advances to the Final Four and will face Wisconsin on Saturday in Indianapolis. Notre Dame falls short of its second Final Four appearance in program history. The Irish hadn’t reached the Elite Eight since 1979, a year after the only run to the national semifinals. Notre Dame’s 32 wins are the second-most in program history and the most since 1908-09.
“I’m proud of our group,” Brey said. “We emptied the tank tonight and that’s all I ask them to do before the game.”
The Irish (32-6) led the Wildcats (38-0) by six with 6:14 remaining in the second half. Notre Dame led for nearly 22 minutes total. But Wildcats sophomore guard Aaron Harrison buried a deep, high-arcing 3-pointer to vault Kentucky ahead, 64-63, with 3:15 remaining. It was Kentucky’s first lead in nearly 12 minutes.
Irish senior guard Jerian Grant countered by burying a deep, right-wing 3 of his own to nudge Notre Dame ahead, 66-64, just 40 seconds later.
Grant strolled back down court, slightly shaking his head. He turned around and readied to defend sophomore guard Andrew Harrison. Staring straight ahead, Grant spoke softly to himself, barely changing his facial expression.
“It’s time. It’s time. We’re here,” he said. “One stop. Let’s get it. We’re one stop away from doing something special.”
But Kentucky converted down the stretch. The Irish didn’t score after Grant’s 3.
With the game tied at 66 with 33.7 seconds remaining, Andrew Harrison drove past Grant and drew a foul on Irish sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson, who rotated over to help. Harrison buried both free throws.
“I shouldn’t have turned my head,” Grant said. “I felt a ball screen coming. You can’t do that with a guy like that. I turned my head. Right when he saw me do that, he drove past me. I made a mistake.”
“We couldn’t get the key stop to get it to overtime,” Brey said. “That’s where you lose the game, really. You’ve gotta get that stop.”
With no timeouts remaining, Grant raced up-court and missed a desperation shot from the left corner. The clock struck zero. Ball game.
“He went for the win,” Brey said of Grant. “I don’t fault him for that. I don’t think he could turn the corner.”
Notre Dame led for almost twice as long as Kentucky.
“We were just scratching to stay in the game,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said.
“We really thought we had a great chance,” Brey said. “As the game was going on, we just felt we could win the game. We were very confident.”
Irish junior forward Zach Auguste powered Notre Dame with 20 points, while Grant added 15, and sophomore guard Steve Vasturia chipped in 16.
Despite a rash of early turnovers and a dearth of 3-pointers, Notre Dame hung tight with Kentucky throughout a back-and-forth first half that featured 10 ties and 13 lead changes. The teams entered the intermission tied at 31.
Notre Dame weathered an early second-half offensive surge from Kentucky, and the Irish responded with a quick 13-4 run of their own to vault back ahead, 46-42, with 14:23 remaining in the second half. Auguste threw down a vicious put-back slam, and senior captain and guard/forward Pat Connaughton streaked down the lane with a two-handed flush that ended with the soles of his shoes tapping the underside of the backboard. Calipari used a timeout, quieting the raucous Notre Dame crowd.
The offense went dormant, though, as Notre Dame suffered through a 10-shot stretch in which it hit just two field goals. Still, the Irish clung to a 52-49 lead with 8:13 remaining.
And they had a chance to win in the final minute — the final seconds.
“We gave ourselves a chance, and it’s disappointing because you really had the thing, you had a great chance to win it,” Brey said.