Michigan needed four shots to score its first two points, but the Wolverines put the first basket on the board, nonetheless on a Glenn Robinson III putback. They jumped to a 6-2 lead, then 9-2 when sophomore Nik Stauskas nailed a long triple, and they were off quickly on the way to a dogfight - a 75-72 Kentucky win.
Sophomore Caris LeVert missed an opportunity to put Michigan up 11-4 with two missed free throws after being fouled in transition. Jon Horford, though, playing for Jordan Morgan after the fifth-year senior's first foul, made it so with a putback. Stauskas then hit his second triple from about 22 feet to make it 14-6 at 13:40.
Kentucky's early offense came on putbacks. The Wildcats stayed in it with three consecutive dunks when U-M couldn't keep them off the glass. It was 14-12 at 12:15 after the third, and the Wolverines were still up 18-16 at the first TV timeout following two free throws from Stauskas and another putback from Horford.
The Wolverines were 7-for-13 at that point, Kentucky 8-for-13, and U-M had actually notched four offensive rebounds to the Wildcats' three. The Wolverines had a chance to create some distance, but Robinson missed an easy finish and a wide-open triple - Morgan's putback of a Stauskas miss, though, kept U-M ahead 22-19 at 8:16. Freshman Zak Irvin's triple at the second TV timeout put the Wolverines up by six before James Young answered for U-K.
Michigan's Morgan, though, was a difference maker. He drew an offensive foul, got fouled on an offense rebound and was all over the glass before giving way to Horford at the seven-minute mark. Stauskas then gave U-M its biggest lead again with a three-point play at 5:45, making it 30-22. He drove and finish to make it 32-22 at 5:09, forcing a Kentucky timeout.
The Wildcats, too, helped by missing free throws, three out of four in one stretch. Another Young triple, though, brought U-K within 32-26 at 4:20, and his floater - his ninth and 10th points, made it a four-point game, 32-28. It was 32-30 when Marcus Lee notched his fourth putback (on a basket interference no-call) at 2:54, forcing a Michigan timeout.
Stauskas ended the 8-0 run with two free throws at 2:39. He closed the half with 18 points, but the Wildcats' picked up Morgan's second foul on a questionable charge call and finished the half tied at 37 with another run, capped by a Julius Randle finish.
Stauskas was 5-for-7 from the floor, 6-for-7 from the line in the first half. Irvin added five, Horford, Robinson and Morgan four each. Kentucky scored 24 points in the paint to U-M's 20 in the half, with Young and Lee going 9-for-9 for 20 points.
Morgan picked up his third foul on an either way call at 19:45, a potential game changer. Kentucky want back to work inside and took its first lead on a putback and a score by Dakari Johnson sandwiched around a Caris LeVert floater. It was 43-39 when Randle scored inside over redshirt sophomore Max Bielfeldt.
Robinson III missed twice within two feet, rejected on the second, and the Wildcats expanded their lead before LeVert cut it to 45-41 with a long two-pointer. Walton then tripled from the corner to make it 45-44 at 16:14 to keep the game from getting away - LeVert tied it at 47-all with a three of his own at 14:30, but Young countered with another to give the Wildcats a three-point edge.
Stauskas hit two free throws and the Wolverines went 1-3-1. Offensive rebounds killed them on the first possession using it, resulting in a free throw and a two-point Kentucky lead. Stauskas tied it again with a backdoor dunk - Robinson III put U-M back on top, 53-51, with a dunk in transition at 12:24.
A pick and roll from Walton Jr. to Horford, finished with a two-handed jam, made it 55-51. U-M came back with the 1-3-1, and the Wildcats got an easy dunk from Dakari Johnson with the shot clock winding down.
U-M came up empty on its next two possessions, missed triples from LeVert and Walton. Kentucky took advantage to tie it at 55 with a Randle runner at 8:45. Aaron Harrison gave the Wildcats a three-point edge at the 8:00 mark with a triple against the 1-3-1, and Michigan was hanging on. The Wildcats had notched 16 offensive rebounds at that point.
Yet another stick-back from Randle at 7:15 made it 60-55. An Andrew Harrison drive and finish made it a 62-55 game.
Michigan didn't quit. Robinson III, 3-for-11 to that point, responded with a huge triple from the corner to cut it to four at 5:55. Morgan's finish and-one made it 62-61 at 4:44, and U-M stayed with its 1-3-1 zone until Harrison busted a triple at 4:15. Morgan answered inside with a dunk to cut it back to two, but Kentucky answered again, and the two teams continued to trade baskets.
It was 69-67 at 2:26 after two Stauskas free throws, but Aaron Harrison's huge triple at 2:00 seemed to be a dagger. Robinson, though, answered again from the corner, and it was 72-70 at 1:30.
Michigan got the ball back with 56 seconds remaining after forcing a shot clock violation, setting up an incredible finish. U-M tied it at 72 on a Morgan tip-in with 27 seconds remaining after getting three looks at the basket, giving Kentucky one last chance with the ball. Aaron Harrison nailed a contested, 22-foot triple with 2.6 seconds remaining and Stauskas missed a half court shot to end U-M's season.
Stauskas finished with 24 points, Robinson 14 and Morgan 11 for the Wolverines.