(INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.) — In a battle of in-state rivals, and the last two national champions, eighth-seeded Kentucky made sure a repeat title would not be in the cards for number four Louisville. The Wildcats came back from a seven point deficit in the final four minutes to oust the Cardinals 74-69 on Friday night.
“I told them before the game, you’ll get punched in the mouth and you’re going to taste blood,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said after the win. “You can fight or you can brace yourself for the next shot.”
The punch came in the first half when Louisville (31-6), the defending national champions, jumped out to an 18-5 lead. The fight came late in the second when a 7-0 run tied the game at 66 with 2:11 remaining. From there, it was anyone’s game.
The Wildcats (27-10) start five freshman. One of them, Julius Randle, hit a three to put Kentucky up 70-68 with just 40 seconds remaining. Randle had 15 points and 12 rebounds as his team held a veteran Louisville squad to just one field goal in the final six minutes.
That lone basket came from senior Russ Smith who paced the team with 23 points. Louisville was just 13 for 23 from the free throw line in the loss, the first ever for head coach Rick Pitino in the Sweet 16.
Kentucky now finds themselves in the Elite Eight for the fourth time in five years, last reaching it in 2012 when they won it all. The Wildcats will take on Michigan in the Midwest Regional final on Sunday.
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Jill Martin, CNN