John Clay: Harrison twins find some redemption

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 17, 2013 

The revenge angle was obvious but silly.

Mighty Kentucky might have lost to little Robert Morris in basketball one season ago, but those were different times.

"I thought it was ridiculous," Robert Morris Coach Andrew Toole said of the story line.

The game this Kentucky team wants to avenge in the worst way isn't that first-round NIT tournament loss last season, but the Champions Classic loss to Michigan State last Tuesday in Chicago.

That wasn't going to happen Sunday night in Rupp Arena — not with the Colonials in town. But on the home team's second possession of what turned out to be an 87-49 Kentucky win, the ball swung around to Aaron Harrison in the right corner, and the freshman guard knocked down a three-pointer.

Aaron ripped the nets on another three just a couple of minutes later, then banged home a third three at the 13:40 mark as the Cats raced to a 13-2 lead.

"I was really happy for Aaron," UK Coach John Calipari said after Aaron had scored 28 points.

Tuesday night at the United Center, under a national television microscope, in the first game of a dynamite doubleheader featuring marquee rookies, UK's Harrison twins were not so good.

Andrew, the point guard, scored 11 points in 38 minutes, but he turned it over four times as Michigan State point guard Keith Appling, a senior, scored 22 points, grabbed eight rebounds and made eight assists.

Meanwhile, Aaron Harrison played just 17 minutes, making one of his seven shots to finish with three points. Aaron took five three-pointers that night and missed all five.

It wasn't just the numbers, either. The brothers often dropped their heads and failed to get back on defense after committing turnovers, or displayed bad body language after being called for fouls.

After that 78-74 loss, there were tears in the UK locker room, and the question was whether those were from the disappointment of defeat or the disappointment of individual play. Or both.

"The ones who didn't play well, they knew they didn't play well," Calipari said then.

To borrow a Calipari term, all of that was "unfair" to the two, of course. It was just their third college game, their first against a major foe.

These days, however, that's part of the deal. If kids want to go pro fast, they have to grow up fast. Everything is accelerated. That means growth, development and maturity.

So how did they react? Robert Morris is not Michigan State, but Aaron was 7 for 12 from the floor, including 4 for 7 on threes. He was 10 of 10 from the foul line.

"Aaron has worked hard in practice, and it carried over," Calipari said. "A couple of (other) guys backed up in practice, and it showed today. So hopefully that's a great lesson for all of them."

As for Andrew, he scored eight points and had just two turnovers against Robert Morris. He also grabbed eight rebounds. Not bad for any point guard not named Rajon Rondo.

"Andrew got better today," Calipari said. "Still doesn't have it. We're not on the same page yet."

A sign of that came early, when the UK coach pulled Andrew in favor of Dominique Hawkins, who ended up playing 18 minutes.

"Everything he's doing now he does in practice," Calipari said of the former Madison Central star. "The kid works so hard."

So did Calipari see what he wanted to in terms of body language and effort after Tuesday's loss to Michigan State?

"Like I said to Aaron after, you can't be energized because you made shots. You've got to be energized because you're playing basketball," Calipari said. "James Young was exactly the same way; he misses shots, he goes in the tank. You can't be that way. You're not going to be on your 'A' game every night out, but what do you do to help us win?"

Cal also said this: "We have terrific players, but we're not a great team right now."

And if Kentucky does become a terrific team, it won't be because of the memory of Robert Morris last year, but the memory of Michigan State this year.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: Johnclay.bloginky.com.

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