UK basketball notebook: Top-10 moments feature plenty of Aaron Harrison

Herald-Leader staff writerApril 12, 2014 

Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison (2) hit the game-winning three-pointer over Michigan's Caris LeVert to send the Cats to the Final Four last week. UK won 75-72.

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Kentucky's 2013-14 season included many memorable moments. Here, in chronological order, is a top 10:

Nov. 4 — James Young's sideline challenging, behind-the-back flip trey somehow found its way into the basket against Montevallo. Serendipity gave UK's 95-72 exhibition victory its moment of you-were-there magic. Rushing to the sideline to retrieve a blocked Montevallo shot, Young flung the save attempt blindly into the air. With his back to the court, he could not see the ball float toward the basket and zip through the rim.

What came next was surely unprecedented. The crowd rose and gave Young a standing ovation for scoring for the opponent. Or perhaps the crowd cheered its good fortune to witness a bit of history.

Plus, we learned that a ball originating from beyond the three-point arc must be judged an intended shot to count as a three-pointer.

Nov. 27 — Andrew Harrison's 85-foot heave that swished against Robert Morris. The referees called walking, although it didn't seem clear that Harrison took a running start to get off the shot.

After UK grabbed a loose ball in the final seconds of the first half, Harrison flung the ball through the air and into the basket.

The Rupp Arena crowd exploded in cheers. Amid the noise, it took a moment to realize the referees judged that Harrison needed to walk to gather himself into position to launch the ball from so far away.

While asked about the heave, Aaron Harrison smiled broadly. "I think it should have counted," he said.

Jan. 14 — Michael Qualls two-handed a put-back dunk with two-tenths of a second left in overtime to give Arkansas an 87-85 victory over Kentucky.

Arguably, no player on any team had a more up-and-down season than Qualls. This had to be the highest of the highs. Kentucky's ensuing desperation inbounds pass lodged into the scoreboard hanging over center court. To give the occasion a bit of immortality, Arkansas officials decided to let the ball remain in the scoreboard.

Feb. 12 — The game, the setting and the time/score situation offered little expectation of anything beyond the regular humdrum of a season. A shot clock winding down and UK leading 18-16 at Auburn served as an unlikely setup for something unforgettable. Willie Cauley-Stein found himself on the left wing beyond the three-point line. He dribbled into the lane and lifted off toward a did-he-just-do-that flying dunk.

Feb. 22 — Kentucky being Kentucky, a payback defeat of LSU seemed inevitable. Yet, UK avoided another defeat when LSU's Anthony Hickey missed a shot at the end of regulation. The Cats trailed by one in the final seconds of overtime. Then a loose ball happened to fall in Julius Randle's grasp. He laid in the game-winner with 3.9 seconds.

Afterward, Randle cited the "basketball gods" for his and UK's good fortune.

March 1 — Seldom is the nadir of a season easier to identify. Kentucky looked most like the pitiful giant in losing 72-67 at South Carolina, which finished next to last in the SEC. At one point in the second half, the Cats trailed by 16. The referees ejected Coach John Calipari.

Afterward Aaron Harrison spoke of a "great story" about to unfold.

March 8 — No. 1 Florida built a 22-point lead late in the first half. The Gators could not have scripted a better men-against-boys game for their Senior Day.

Then Kentucky reeled off 15 straight points. Suddenly, from the Florida point of view, we were in the Oh-No Dome.

To the rescue, as he did almost all season, rode Scottie Wilbekin. With the lead down to 53-47 and plenty of time for Kentucky to turn the screws ever tighter, the SEC's Most Valuable Player hit a three-pointer from the right wing. Florida got back to beating UK 84-65.

March 28 — Kentucky had led for only 28 seconds in the Midwest Region Sweet 16 game against arch-rival Louisville. Trailing 68-67, Randle drew defenders in the lane, then passed to an open Aaron Harrison in the left corner. Harrison swished a three-pointer with 39.1 seconds left. This remained his most famous shot as a UK player for ... less than 48 hours.

March 30 — With a Final Four berth on the line, Kentucky found itself tied with Michigan inside the final seconds. Strategy in a timeout with 27 seconds left was obvious: Get the ball to Aaron Harrison. "You didn't have to tell me twice," point guard Andrew Harrison said. Aaron Harrison hit a high-arcing shot from the left wing so contested that columnist Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star said Caris LeVert's hand was "virtually high-fiving Harrison's shooting hand." This became his most famous shot as a UK player for ... less than a week.

April 5 — Trailing 73-71 in the final seconds in a national semifinal against Wisconsin, Aaron Harrison found the defender (Josh Gasser) playing him for a drive. From almost the same spot at the left wing, Harrison yet again hit the game-winning three-pointer, this time with 5.7 seconds left.

Heaven can wait

Former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson was among those announced Monday as members of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame class of 2014. The Aug. 7-9 induction will mark his ninth entry into a Hall of Fame,

"My cup runneth over," he said. "I was told there's nothing left but heaven."

Among earth-bound honors, the Naismith Hall of Fame would be hard to beat, Richardson said.

"When you reach the pinnacle of it all, it's the greatest feeling you can think of."

In speaking to reporters, Richardson reflected on the long journey in coaching that began with guiding an eighth-grade team.

"Maybe the Good Lord had it planned for me to do it that way," he said. "Now, that I look back on it, I was prepared for life a lot better."

Blazing a trail

Nolan Richardson's coaching career is the story of a pioneer: the first black coach in various locales on various levels: from Texas high schools through his time at the University of Arkansas.

"Being the first all the time, sometimes that wears on you," he said.

Richardson, who said his great grandmother was a slave, felt the responsibility of blazing a trail that others could follow. His successes and failures would impact those who followed his example.

Of course, Richardson played for Texas Western, which two years after his playing career ended beat Kentucky in the famous 1966 national championship game. With an all-black starting lineup, Texas Western shattered racial assumptions of the time by beating all-white Kentucky.

It was not lost on Richardson that Kentucky, which except for Jarrod Polson's three minutes, used only black players in beating mostly white Wisconsin last weekend in the national semifinals.

"What would Adolph Rupp have thought about that?" Richardson said.

Kentucky, come forth!

Former LSU coach Dale Brown attended the Final Four. He said Kentucky's comeback story in the NCAA Tournament made him want to root for the Cats in Arlington.

Brown said he watched LSU beat Kentucky in Baton Rouge and believed the Cats might be finished.

"Lazarus rose from the dead," he said. "So did Kentucky."

Third way

Maybe you embrace John Calipari's suggestion of the label "Succeed and Proceed" for players who stay in college no longer than the mandatory one year before turning pro. Or maybe you prefer the familiar term "one-and-done."

Calipari noted a negative connotation with "one-and-done."

Of course, it's all semantics (and business, judging by Nike hustling "Succeed-and-Proceed" T-shirts to the Final Four).

Jason Gay of The Wall Street Journal offered a third alternative. He wrote about the "Kentucky Basketball Accelerated Appreciation Society."

Wordy. But dignified.

Important dates

Important dates to keep in mind:

April 16-19. Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational Tournament for prospects still hoping to make an impression on NBA people.

April 27. Deadline for an underclassman to enter his name in this year's NBA Draft. To be precise, the deadline is 11:59 p.m. EDT on April 27.

May 20. The NBA will decide the order of selection for the Draft Lottery,

June 16. Deadline for withdrawing a name from this year's NBA Draft. To be precise, the deadline is 5 p.m. EDT on June 16.

June 26. The 2014 NBA Draft.

By the way, here's a date, judging by previous comments by John Calipari, that UK will ignore:

Tuesday. The NCAA deadline for an underclassman withdrawing his name from this year's draft and retaining Division I eligibility.

Lasting impressions

Among the lasting impressions made by UConn in the Final Four were:

■ Showing that the old-fashioned pull-up jumper is alive and well. UK's dribble-drive offense seeks scoring opportunities at the basket (layups, dunks off lobs, put-backs) and open three-point shots set up by penetrating drives. In a pinch, players shoot three-pointers off pick-and-pops.

UConn's Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright used a combination of quickness and hesitation to get defenders on their heels long enough to pull up for jump shots.

Former UConn coach Jim Calhoun noted how present UConn coach Kevin Ollie signed more than 10 10-day contracts as a NBA player.

"Do you know how tough you have to be?" Calhoun said. "How smart you have to be? You've got to be a tough human being."

Final forecasting

Going into this year's NCAA Tournament, Hank Domin of hdomin@syracuse.com asked 30 people to pick the Final Four teams. Of those 120 picks, only 29 were correct. Of those correct picks, 21 were Florida to win the South Region, the other eight were Wisconsin to win the West Region.

No one picked Connecticut and Kentucky, the teams that advanced to the national championship game.

With the advantage of knowing the four teams in the Final Four, Sports Illustrated asked its lead writers to pick the champion.

Seth Davis and Brian Hamilton picked Florida to beat Kentucky in Monday night's championship game. Pete Thamel and Luke Winn picked Florida to beat Wisconsin. Greg Bishop picked Kentucky to beat Florida.

No one picked Connecticut to win in Saturday's semifinals.

This isn't to disparage the expertise of those making the picks. Full disclosure: I picked Kentucky to win the Midwest Region, not because UK was a juggernaut that could not be stopped. Because no other team seemed to be a juggernaut that could not be stopped.

After watching Wichita State play Cal Poly, I expected the Shockers to handily beat Kentucky.

Happy birthday

To Derrick Jasper. He turns 26 today. ... To Nerlens Noel. He turned 20 on Thursday.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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