KENTUCKY /NOTRE DAME
This was the game of the tournament, and an epic encounter. Notre Dame played the majority of the contest with four guards, and a set of balls that even Sam Cassell could appreciate. The Irish spread the floor, and moved the ball fluidly from side to side to open up the Kentucky defense for drives and screen and roll play. Their defense applied ball pressure and made things uncomfortable for Kentucky. Most impressive was Notre Dame ‘ s sheer willingness to get after Kentucky in every aspect of the game.
With history on the line, Kentucky ‘ s resolve was tested in the extreme, but they were found worthy. Karl – Anthony Towns was perfect in the second half exploiting a mismatch on the block, and the oft-maligned Harrisons each made crucial plays late.
The enduring lesson from this game can be found in Notre Dame’s last two full possessions where they lost their aggressive movement, and struggled to find shots in isolation. I do not accept that it was simply Kentucky’s defense, but rather a a fear – based departure from character. The Irish were good enough to win, but doubted themselves when it mattered most.
For the first time in my life, I found myself rooting for the Badgers. It was not by plan. It evolved organically as I watched them pull away from Arizona with poise, confidence and even swagger. Perhaps this was the inevitable residue of having gained a greater appreciation for Christian Laettner, but it was undeniable. They will not fear Kentucky, and will play loose.
Tom Izzo is Mr. March. He has continuously had his teams playing their best basketball at this time of the year. Despite varying adversity through the course of the season, all the mantras of toughness and character begin to resonate in the Spartan soul, and they are regularly the tournament’s toughest out.
On Sunday, they outlasted Louisville in overtime. Both teams had chances to win, and his team did.
This is Justice Winslow’s team. He is a two-way force of nature player the impacts the game in so many ways. Today, he shot poorly and rolled his ankle, but it did not diminish his energy or competitiveness. As Duke pulled away, Winslow led them.