Moral Victory for ND, but Cauley-Stein Defense Sends Kentucky to Final Four

AP Photo
The Associated Press

With 14:26 to go, Notre Dame’s Pat Connaughton drove to the hoop for a dunk that gave them a 46-42 lead, and Ashley Judd covered her head. The rest of the game was a battle, and with 2:36 to go Connaughton found Jerian Grant 24 feet from the basket and Grant buried the long three-pointer to give Notre Dame a 66-64 lead.

But Kentucky has two of the top three defenders in basketball according to, with Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns both taking 5.46 points a game away from opponents—and the two of them would not let the Irish score again.

The best offense in the country had put up 66 points on the best defense since the invention of the three-point line in the 1980s—the seventh highest total against Kentucky all year. The Irish had a moral victory, but it would not repeat the miracle of ending UCLA’s 88-game winning streak in 1974.

Grant would have three more chances to hit a game-winning shot after that point. After he missed one shot, Towns went to the hoop to finish 10 of 13 shooting with 25 points and five assist. Notre Dame tried to hit from very deep again, but the 7-foot Cauley-Stein came out past the three-point line to deflect the shot and preserve the 66-66 tie.

On Kentucky’s last possession, Towns held the ball for several seconds. He recently passed Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky to be the No. 2 player in the country according to Value Add. With the attention on him, the 6-foot-11 player dished to Andrew Harrison for what might be his fifth assist. Harrison’s twin brother was the hero several times in the past, but this time it was Andrew who drove to the hoop to get fouled with six seconds left and hit both free throws to make it 68-66.

That left Grant, ranked No. 7 in Value Add, time to run the length of the court to get off on more potential game-winning shot, but the 7-foot Cauley-Stein, who both the NFL and NBA want, ran with him every step of the way to the opposite corner, forcing an off-balance airball as time ran out.

Last year, even Kentucky fans asked how I could make Cauley-Stein an All-American. While Towns ranked ahead of him as Kentucky’s best player this year due to superior offense, taking points off the board is just as important as putting points on the board. A point is a point, and the two Breitbart Sports All-Americans have led a defense that kept Kentucky alive for one more day en route to make their case for the greatest team ever if they can win two more starting with Wisconsin next Saturday.