Kentucky Basketball: Report Card for 2014 Final Four Showdown vs. Wisconsin

Thad NovakCorrespondent IApril 6, 2014

Kentucky Basketball: Report Card for 2014 Final Four Showdown vs. Wisconsin

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    Charlie Neibergall

    Another day and another miracle Aaron Harrison jumper for Kentucky basketball, which shocked Wisconsin in the 2014 Final Four by a 74-73 margin. Of course, Harrison was just one part of a tremendous team effort that saw the Wildcats shoot 50 percent from the field against a team renowned for its stout defense.

    One big reason for that success was sophomore Alex Poythress, who hit all four shots he attempted while coming off the bench. The energetic forward also tied for the game high in rebounds, matching teammate Dakari Johnson with seven.

    Herein is a look at Harrison, Poythress, Johnson and the rest of the nine Wildcats who played in Saturday’s thriller, graded based on how they performed over the course of the game.

Jarrod Polson

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    Charlie Riedel

    With both Harrison twins in foul trouble late in the first half, John Calipari turned to Jarrod Polson to eat up some minutes in the backcourt. The steady senior obliged, and while he didn’t put up impressive numbers, he also didn’t hurt his team’s cause by any means.

    Polson recorded just a single rebound in his short stint on the floor, but he meant a good bit more than that to the Wildcats. His presence coincided with a crucial run late in the first half that helped Kentucky close a nine-point deficit to just four heading into the locker room.

    Grade: C- 

Dominique Hawkins

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Pressed into service for unusually long stretches by Andrew Harrison's defensive woes, Dominique Hawkins kept Kentucky’s offense clicking. Big Blue’s forgotten freshman scored only two points, but he got the ball where it needed to go.

    Hawkins’ steady hand at the helm was a key factor in Kentucky maintaining its 50 percent field-goal accuracy through all the wild momentum swings in this game.

    Defensively, though, he was less impressive, committing a couple of fouls of his own to force even more lineup juggling by Coach Calipari.

    Grade: C-

Marcus Lee

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    David J. Phillip

    A postseason revelation since Willie Cauley-Stein’s injury, Marcus Lee continued to convert on his opportunities against the Badgers. Despite limited minutes, he recorded another four points (including a beautiful alley-oop finish) and blocked another shot.

    That said, the slender freshman didn’t make much noise in the hard-fought rebounding battle, grabbing only a single board. He also wasn’t in the game long enough to impress or disappoint to any great extent.

    Grade: C

Alex Poythress

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    Pool/Getty Images

    Poythress has excelled for most of this season as a second-unit sparkplug, and his energy has rarely been more valuable than it was on Saturday.

    His ability to attack the basket, as both a scorer and rebounder, played a central role in the extended scoring runs that kept Wisconsin from putting the game out of reach coming into and out of halftime.

    Poythress finished with eight points (on perfect shooting) while grabbing seven rebounds to tie for the game high. About the only blemish on his record was a failure to convert on a three-point play late in the game, as he missed his lone free-throw attempt.

    Grade: A+

Andrew Harrison

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    Chris Steppig

    Andrew Harrison continues to be a far more effective passer in the postseason than he was during the regular season.

    Even with his minutes curtailed by foul trouble, the freshman floor general dished out four of Kentucky’s nine assists, running an aggressive offense that attempted just five three-pointers all night.

    Harrison scored nine points, but he had the worst shooting performance of any Wildcat (4-of-14).

    He also struggled badly on D: He missed much of the first half with foul issues, fouled Traevon Jackson to give the Badgers the lead with 16 seconds to play and was pulled for the final defensive possession.

    Grade: B

Aaron Harrison

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    Charlie Neibergall

    Aaron Harrison “didn’t play that well today.” That’s according to someone in a position to know—Aaron Harrison, in a postgame interview on TBS.

    However, even he had to admit that “I made a big shot,” draining the game-winning trey (again) from well beyond the three-point arc.

    Harrison isn’t wrong about his overall performance, as he scored just eight points while adding three rebounds and two assists.

    Still, he deserves a ton of credit for coming through in the clutch, including some fine defense on Traevon Jackson to make his shot stand up as the game-winner.

    Grade: A-

James Young

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    Chris Steppig

    James Young opened the scoring for Kentucky by draining a three-pointer, often a risky proposition for the team’s streakiest shooter.

    He then proceeded to show how much he’s learned in his first year of college hoops, attempting one more trey against 10 two-pointers the rest of the night.

    Young led all scorers with 17 points, not least because his attacking mindset got him to the foul line seven times. He also played active D—recording five rebounds and two steals—and dished out a couple of assists as the frequent focal point of the Kentucky attack.

    Grade: A+

Julius Randle

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    David J. Phillip

    Bleacher Report’s own Matt Miller summed up Julius Randle’s performance nicely, tweeting, “I'm sure Julius Randle will have a fine NBA career, but he'd be a damn good tight end in the NFL.”

    The star freshman's physicality was on full display against the skinny Wisconsin forwards, as he muscled his way to 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting.

    Randle didn’t dominate the glass as easily as usual (partly because of all the long rebounds from trey-happy Wisconsin), but his five boards were as many as any Badger recorded. He did a solid job of defending on Frank Kaminsky when switched onto him, but he struggled to chase down Sam Dekker (who tied for the UW scoring lead with 15 points).

    Grade: B+

Dakari Johnson

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    Eric Gay

    Dakari Johnson’s 10-point scoring effort needs some context to be properly appreciated. Firstly, it’s his fourth double-digit night of the entire season (and second in three games).

    Secondly, it’s two more points than Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky managed with Johnson guarding him.

    That defensive effort, which kept the Badgers’ tournament hero from beating the ‘Cats by himself, was worth even Johnson’s considerable weight in gold.

    Even better, the wide-bodied center finally played up to his size on the boards, tying for the game high with seven rebounds (five on the offensive end).

    Grade: A