John Clay: Kentucky's never done it like this before

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistApril 6, 2014 

  • NCAA championship game

    Kentucky (29-10) vs. Connecticut (31-8)

    When: 9:10 p.m. Monday (CBS)

    Where: Arlington, Texas

ARLINGTON, Texas — He did it again.

Kentucky has won eight of these NCAA Tournaments before, but if it wins No. 9 on Monday night by beating the Connecticut Huskies at AT&T Stadium in the national championship game, none of the previous eight will compare to this one.

Not in the path. Not in the execution. Certainly not in the drama.

He did it again.

He is Aaron Harrison, the freshman guard from Richmond, Texas, about four hours from here, and if you did not learn from previous experience that ice water runs through his young veins, you know now. And how.

You knew before that it was Aaron Harrison who hit the three-pointer that put UK ahead of Louisville. He hit the three-pointer that beat Michigan last Sunday.

Then Saturday night, his team down by two with five seconds remaining, it was Aaron Harrison who did it again, sinking a three-pointer from the left wing to beat Wisconsin 74-73 in the national semifinal.

"Aaron's been doing that all tournament," said Wisconsin's Sam Dekker afterward. "He's got that clutch gene."

Actually, Kentucky did it again.

If these young Cats, the team that starts five freshmen, lack experience in most every college basketball circumstance, they have gained tons of experience in white-knucklers during this amazing tournament run and they've put it to good use.

The Saturday night key, of course, was falling behind at halftime.

The Cats trailed Wichita State by six at the half and rallied to win 78-76. They trailed Louisville by three at the half and came back to clip the Cards. They were tied with Michigan at intermission and won by three.

They trailed Wisconsin 40-36 at the half. The good news was UK's excellent help defense had limited Badgers star Frank Kaminsky to one shot and two points. The bad news was the Badgers got to the foul line 14 times and made all 14.

When Dekker drained a three-pointer on Wisconsin's first possession of the second half, UK Coach John Calipari did what he did frequently during the season. He called a quick timeout. Whatever he said during that timeout was pure gold.

Kentucky went on a 15-0 run to take a 51-43 lead. It was easily the team's best stretch of the 40 minutes. It was not, however, a powerful enough punch to knock Wisconsin out.

The Badgers swung right back, pulling ahead 56-55 with 11:50 remaining and from that point forward it was what nearly every Kentucky tournament game has been to this point. A nail-biter.

Both teams gave as good as they got. Wisconsin led 67-62 when Traevon Jackson scored with 6:17 left. Kentucky pulled ahead 71-69 when Alex Poythress somehow muscled in an errant lob from Andrew Harrison with 2:15 remaining.

When Andrew Harrison left his feet and fouled Jackson on a three-point attempt with 16.4 seconds left, and Jackson made two of the three free throws for a 73-71 Wisconsin lead, it was up to one twin brother to cover for the other.

Aaron Harrison took one three-pointer the entire game. It was all Kentucky needed.

"We came up one possession short," said Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan afterward.

Wasn't that the same thing Wichita State Coach Gregg Marshall said after he lost to Kentucky?

Wasn't that the same thing Michigan Coach John Beilein said after he lost to Kentucky?

Another team of destiny awaits Monday night. Kentucky is a No. 8 seed. Connecticut is a No. 7 seed. Shabazz Napier and Company frustrated SEC champ and No. 1-ranked Florida 63-53 in Saturday's first semifinal.

That's the same Florida that beat Kentucky three times this season. It's the same Connecticut that lost to Louisville three times, all by double digits.

That doesn't matter now. Not one bit. Aaron Harrison did it again. Kentucky did it again.

And now the Cats go into Monday night with a chance to win a ninth title.

Never, however, have they done it like this.

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

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