John Clay: Harrison twins deliver when Kentucky needs them most

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 28, 2013 

The kid was grinning.

Seriously. We saw it. A grin. He couldn't hide it, because there would be no reason to hide it, not after this game and on this day against this opponent with this outcome.

Andrew Harrison couldn't help but grin.

"We came together as a team," he said.

You can be forgiven if before Kentucky's 73-66 win over Louisville in Rupp Arena on Saturday you may have questioned the freshman guard's capacity to smile, to look as if he was having fun and enjoying himself.

You wondered if Andrew and twin brother Aaron were prisoners of their own bad body language that came from not quite meeting their elevated expectations.

Then Saturday afternoon, with Julius Randle out of the lineup for all but four minutes of the second half, some young Cat needed to step up and James Young did just that, earning game Most Valuable Player honors.

But the Harrisons (plural) stepped up, as well. Andrew scored 11 points in the second half to finish with a career-high 18. After a scoreless first half, Aaron scored 10 in the second half.

Against Louisville's trademark press, UK committed just 11 turnovers, two fewer than Louisville's 13.

For the first time for a consistent stretch, you could see what all those recruiting analysts were talking about.

"I thought the Harrisons were very much under control," Louisville Coach Rick Pitino said afterward. "They handled pressure and they didn't force things. They showed much more maturity than what everybody was saying. I was hearing all of these things and I thought they showed great maturity tonight."

What Pitino was hearing, Kentucky fans were seeing. There was the head-bowing after mistakes. There were the hands on the top of the head after a foul call. There was the look of consternation or bewilderment when receiving some loud instruction from Coach John Calipari.

Saturday's second half, that was all replaced by big play after big play.

When Louisville tied the game at 43, it was Andrew who drew a foul and sank two free throws. When Louisville pulled to within 47-46, it was Aaron who flipped in a bucket off a drive.

When Louisville took the lead 52-51, it was Andrew who converted a drive to the basket. With Kentucky up 55-53, it was Andrew who scored on a monster drive down the left baseline while being fouled. His free throw put the Cats up 58-53.

And it was Andrew who fed teammate Alex Poythress for a slam with 1:44 left to extend the Kentucky lead to 71-61.

"How about the pass he makes to Alex?" Calipari said. "He could have tried to shoot that. That dunk basically put it to 10 and kind of put it out of reach."

"That's just showing how much heart this team has," said Andrew Harrison. "We know we get criticized a lot for being young and body language and things like that, but we knew we could win this game. Going against a great team like Louisville, we knew we had to bring it."

Andrew wasn't perfect. He turned the ball over three times and made just six of his 12 free throws.

"Got to make those free throws," said Calipari.

Still, his point guard performed with the sort of decisiveness and playmaking you expect from a Calipari point guard, once the player adjusts to the knocks that come with being a Calipari point guard.

"Hey," said Andrew, "it comes with the territory."

Surely, Saturday was about claiming new territory. Winning without Randle, winning with the Harrisons and Young all playing up to their level of ability, has to be a confidence boost.

"You always have to believe in yourself no matter who you're playing against," said Andrew. "Those Louisville guards are great so it was definitely a confidence boost for our team. Kind of gets the monkey off our back."

For now.

"At the same time, we're trying to get better," sad Kentucky's point guard. "Practice tomorrow at 6."

With that, Andrew Harrison grinned all over again.

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

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