Jared Harper scored 12 points in overtime to lead Auburn to a 77-71 victory over Kentucky Sunday afternoon in the Midwest Region final in Kansas City. The Tigers will face the Virginia Cavaliers in Saturday’s national semifinals.
Fifth-seeded Auburn (30-9) reached the Final Four for the first time in program history. They had reached the Elite Eight only once before (1986) and denied Kentucky its 18th Final Four appearance, which would have given the Wildcats the second most all-time (North Carolina, 20).
The Wildcats remain tied with UCLA. Duke will try to reach its 17th Final Four later Sunday.
Auburn became the first team to defeat Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, and the Tigers avenged two earlier losses to Kentucky.
Trailing 35-30 at halftime, Auburn came out hot in the second half, opening with a 10-2 run. Bryce Brown hit two of three free throws to tie the score at 37. He missed the third but got his own rebound. He then hit a three-pointer to give the Tigers their first lead of the game.
No. 2-seed Kentucky (30-7) regained the lead when an alley-oop from Immanuel Quickley to PJ Washington resulted in a dunk. But Auburn wouldn’t go away. A three-pointer from Danjel Purifoy gave the Tigers their largest lead at 54-50.
After the Tigers extended it to 56-50, Kentucky ripped off an 8-2 run to tie the score at 58 with 2:55 left.
Washington gave Kentucky a 60-58 lead when he followed his own miss with an eight-foot jumper in the lane with 56 seconds left. Harper tied it with a driving layup with 37 seconds left. After Kentucky missed several attempts near the hoop, a three-point attempt by Horace Spencer caromed off the rim and the game went to overtime.
Harper stars in OT
Harper scored the first two buckets of overtime to give Auburn a lead it would not relinquish.
Auburn was led by Harper with 26 points and Bryce Brown with 24.
Kentucky was led by Washington with 28 points. Keldon Johnson had 14 and Ashton Hagans had 10.
Kentucky seized control of the first half right from the start. The Wildcats scored the first seven points of the game and extended the lead to double-digits by the second media timeout. They kept Auburn at arm’s length throughout most of the half. Auburn used a 10-2 run near the end of the half to cut the lead to two points. But Ashton Hagans hit a three-pointer with 12 seconds left to give Kentucky the five-point halftime lead.
The Wildcats shot 45.8 percent from the field in the first half, while the Tigers shot just 36.7 percent. Neither team found much success from beyond the three-point line, with both shooting around 30 percent. In the half, Kentucky was led by Washington with 15 points. Auburn was led by Harper with eight points.
With the win, the Tigers beat an opponent ranked in the Top 10 for the fourth straight time.
–Field Level Media