KANSAS CITY, MO (WAVE) - Just a day after Virginia ousted Purdue in a thrilling overtime South Region final, Auburn did the same thing to Kentucky in the Midwest Region.
The Tigers led for much of the second half, but Kentucky regained the lead late, and the teams finished regulation tied, 60-60.
Auburn’s Jared Harper made a pair of layups early in the extra session, helping the winners build a 70-63 advantage, en route to a 77-71 win over their SEC rivals in an Elite Eight matchup at the Sprint Center.
“They deserved to win the game,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “We got outplayed, got outcoached, and still had a chance to win the game. I thought we were going to win the game the whole way until the one or two plays in overtime. Never entered my mind we weren’t going to win the game.”
A short 48 hours after questions circulated about whether he would even play, PJ Washington was a star in a losing effort for Kentucky.
Washington finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds, but struggled from the free throw line late.
The first half was effectively all Washington, as he scored 15 of Kentucky’s 35 points. He was the only player in double-digits at the break.
Auburn took its first lead with 17:43 left in the game, when Bryce Brown nailed a three-pointer from the corner to put the Tigers up 40-37.
Immanuel Quickley found Washington for an explosive dunk to give Kentucky the lead back, 45-44, with 13:12 to go.
The Tigers went on a 12-2 run early in the second half, led primarily by Brown and Harper. The pair combined for zero points in the first eight minutes of the game, but Harper finished with 26 points for Auburn, and Brown had 24.
Washington put back his short miss with 57 seconds left in regulation to give Kentucky a 60-58 edge, its first lead since a 46-44 advantage with nearly 13 minutes remaining.
Harper countered with a driving layup with 37 seconds left, forging the 60-60 tie. On UK’s final possession of regulation, Washington and Keldon Johnson missed short jump shots in the final seconds, giving Auburn a final possession.
Double-teamed high above the arc, Brown found Horace Spencer along the left wing. He launched an uncontested three-pointer that missed at the buzzer, forcing the overtime.
One storyline discussed all week, was the meaning of this potential Final Four trip for graduate transfer Reid Travis. Travis hails from Minneapolis, the site of this year’s Final Four. And while many Kentucky players are considered one-and-done due to their NBA Draft prospects, every game this tournament represented the end of Travis’ final season of college eligibility. Travis was emotional after the game, but said he was grateful for his time in a UK uniform.
“I mean, it’s just a lot of emotions,” Travis said. “As far as this being my last college game, been through a lot of adversity, lot of ups and downs. Obviously being able to come here, it’s been a blessing and thankful for the opportunities. Lot of emotions not being able to finish it the way I want to, but that doesn’t take away from the experience that I had. This has been one of the best years of my life playing basketball."
Auburn (29-9), a No. 5 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament under coach Bruce Pearl, advances to the Final Four for the first time in school history. It’s the second time in three years that a surprise SEC team made it to college basketball’s holy grail. South Carolina came out of the East Region as a No. 7 seed in 2017, but lost to Gonzaga in a national semifinal.