Mark Story: Of UK's stars, Harrison twins shine brightest vs. Louisville

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 29, 2014 

INDIANAPOLIS — If you don't think March basketball can produce magic that changes everything, look no further than twin brothers who man the Kentucky backcourt.

For much of the regular season, Aaron and Andrew Harrison were known for scowls, bad body language and spotty guard play.

But in the first three games of Kentucky's 2014 NCAA Tournament, the Harrison twins have completely turned the narratives of their UK season.

In a game that will be replayed and rehashed forever in the basketball-mad commonwealth, Kentucky finally subdued intrastate archrival Louisville 74-69 in the Midwest Region round of 16 before a Lucas Oil Stadium crowd of 41,072.

"What a terrific basketball game," Kentucky Coach John Calipari said. "I'm really proud of my kids. I told them before the game, you are going to get punched in the mouth. You are going to taste blood, and you'll have to punch back."

With the victory, No. 8 seed UK (27-10) advances to face No. 2 seed Michigan Sunday for a berth in the Final Four at 5:05 p.m.

For UK, heroes were many — start with Dakari Johnson (15 points, six rebounds); Julius Randle (15 points, 12 rebounds); Alex Poythress (six crucial late points) — but none were more vital to victory than the Harrison twins.

In what will live in Kentucky Wildcats basketball lore as one of the great clutch shots in school history, Aaron Harrison took a Julius Randle kickout deep in the left corner with roughly 41 seconds left in the game and the Cats down 68-67.

Rising coolly, the 6-foot-6 Texas product let fire a three-point bomb. When it swished the nets with 39.1 left, the blue part of a crowd that seemed 50-50 split between UK colors and Louisville red exploded.

It turned out to be the basket that put UK ahead to stay.

"It felt good," Aaron Harrison said afterward. "When you shoot the ball, there's never any guarantee it is going in, but it felt good."

Given the opponent, the setting and the situation, there aren't many bigger shots that have ever been made by a Kentucky Wildcat.

That UK was even in position to win seemed a minor miracle after the start. Louisville opened the game by throwing a haymaker, an 18-5 run. UK clawed back within 34-31 by halftime and was fortunate to be that close. Louisville missed nine of its 15 free-throw attempts in the first half — which, in retrospect, cost it the game.

Besides its "free throw defense," the other thing that allowed Kentucky to stay in the game was the composed play of its point guard.

Facing Louisville's signature full-court pressure and a trick U of L matchup zone, Andrew Harrison recorded 14 points, five rebounds and seven assists.

Seeming to grow more comfortable as the game progressed, he began to pick Louisville apart with clever passes and hard drives to the basket.

"Andrew, it's not fair what we've asked him to do," Calipari said. "At halftime, I'm looking at him and saying 'You've got to do a better job running this team.' That's not fair to a freshman, but we didn't have any choice."

Afterward, a reporter noticed Andrew looking at his cellphone and asked him what he was reading.

"It was a long text from my mom and she was telling me how proud she was of me," he said. "Looking at it made me happy."

With the Harrison twins each leaving their mark, this will surely be remembered as one of the sweetest victories in UK's regal basketball history. That is probably enhanced because, for Louisville, it will be one of the most crushing defeats.

"We probably beat ourselves a little bit down the stretch," said U of L Coach Rick Pitino, "but how can any of us complain with the run we've been on these past three years? ... We don't like losing to Kentucky, certainly, but give them credit."

Under Calipari, Kentucky is now 6-1 against Louisville. In NCAA Tournament games, Kentucky is now 4-2 against the Cardinals and has won the last three. History will always record that, in an NCAA Tournament meeting with UK (2012) and U of L (2013) as the two most recent NCAA champions, it was Kentucky that won.

Most importantly for Kentucky fans, in all past years in which UK and U of L have met in the NCAA tourney (and the game was not in the national semifinals), the team that has won has eventually advanced to the Final Four.

Said Pitino: "Kentucky is playing great down the stretch. They're going to be tough to beat. Very tough to beat."

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230.Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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