Michigan Tips Kentucky in OT, 81-78
By Steve Berkowitz
Michigan persevered its way to an 81-78 overtime victory over Kentucky in a National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament semifinal tonight at the Louisiana Superdome, earning a place in the national championship game for the second consecutive year.
The Wolverines (31-4) lost the 10-point lead they held with a little less than 13 minutes left in regulation and trailed for the first four minutes of the five-minute overtime. But they will meet North Carolina here Monday night.
The Tar Heels (33-4) defeated Kansas in tonight's other semifinal, 78-68. Michigan defeated North Carolina in late December in the semifinals of Rainbow Classic in Hawaii, 79-78, on a last-second shot by guard Jalen Rose.
Tonight's victory "says what we have been trying to say all season," Rose said. "We're winners. We find a way to win."
Kentucky (30-4) had its season ended in crushing fashion for the second consecutive year. Last year, the Wildcats lost to Duke in the East regional final when Christian Laettner made a miraculous shot at the buzzer.
"We're very disappointed," said Kentucky Coach Rick Pitino about tonight's game. "We thought we had a victory and we let it get away. We're very disappointed."
Rose (18 points) and junior forward Chris Webber (27 points, 13 rebounds) made the most important plays tonight. With Kentucky leading by 78-75 in overtime, Michigan forward Ray Jackson hit a layup while being fouled with 56 seconds to play. He missed the free throw, but the ball went off Kentucky center Rodney Dent's hands and out of bounds. Given a reprieve, Michigan took a 79-78 lead with 41 seconds left when Webber took a pass in the low post, spun past Gimel Martinez and drove the baseline for a layup.
Webber said that just before he got the ball, Jackson had told him, "Get your butt over here and post up."
Dent then missed from the lane, Martinez fouled Rose with 21 seconds left and Rose made two free throws for an 81-78 lead. After a Michigan timeout, Kentucky worked for a three-point shot but could only get an off-balance attempt by Martinez with four seconds left.
The rebound went off Jackson's hands, giving Kentucky life, but Webber blocked two inbound passes by Dent. The first time, Webber sent the ball back out of bounds. The second time, he tipped the ball up in the air, caught it and tossed it toward midcourt.
Kentucky guard Tony Delk grabbed the ball and threw it toward the basket, but he wasn't close and the buzzer sounded.
"I like guarding on inbound plays," Webber said. "I read guys' eyes pretty well."
Webber, who said before the game that he hadn't been having fun so far in the tournament, was asked if he was having fun now. "I'm having a lot of fun," he said. "It's fun to see a challenge and overcome it."
The Wildcats had won their seven previous postseason games (three in the Southeastern Conference tournament, four in the NCAA tournament) by about 31 points.
But Michigan led 40-35 at halftime and 54-44 with about 13 minutes to play. The Wolverines were not flustered by Kentucky's press, and showed patience once they moved the ball into the front court.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats were showing none of the offensive balance that had been one of their defining characteristics this season. At halftime, only four Kentucky players had scored.
In addition, Michigan made 12 of 13 first-half free throws -- far better than the 65 percent the Wolverines had shot to this point in the season (Michigan made 23 of 30 free throws tonight).
However, Kentucky blitzed the Wolverines with a 13-2 run that began with 10 consecutive points and ended with the Wildcats leading by 57-56 with 7 1/2 minutes left in regulation. The game was a back-and-forth affair the rest of the way.
Wildcats guard Travis Ford made two free throws with 10 seconds left in regulation to tie the score at 71. Michigan called time out, and inbounded the ball to Rose, who -- in Kentucky's eyes -- committed a charging foul before getting across halfcourt and calling time out with three seconds left. When play resumed, Michigan again got the ball to Rose, who missed a jumper from the top of the key while -- in Michigan's eyes -- being fouled by Rodney Dent.
In overtime, Kentucky grabbed a 76-72 lead in the first minute-and-a-half, but the game began to unravel for the Wildcats when all-American junior forward Jamal Mashburn fouled out with 3:23 left.
Mashburn, who has said he will enter the upcoming National Basketball Association draft, had scored 26 points and become a greater and greater focus of Kentucky's offense as guard Dale Brown (16 points) left because of a shoulder injury with more than six minutes left in regulation. Forward Jared Prickett fouled out 24 seconds into overtime and Ford struggled all night against Michigan's excellent perimeter defense. Ford, who entered averaging 15 points on 67 percent shooting in Kentucky's first four tournament games, scored 12 points on three-for-10 shooting.
After Mashburn's fifth foul, Howard made one of two free throws, bringing Michigan within 76-73. Kentucky's Rodrick Rhodes missed a jumper, and Jackson made two free throws after being fouled on a follow-up shot. The Wolverines were within 76-75 with 2 1/2 minutes left.
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