Mark Story: Did Aaron Harrison hit 3 of the 10 greatest clutch shots in UK history in one NCAA tourney?

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMay 10, 2014 

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Kentucky's Aaron Harrison (2) put up a three point shot to put UK ahead with 3 seconds remaining in the NCAA Final Four semi-finals Saturday April 5, 2014 at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

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You will recall the acclaim Aaron Harrison received while hitting the game-winning and/or last-minute-go-ahead shots in three straight Kentucky victories in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.

Odd as this sounds for a guy who landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated, I'm not sure even the massive attention the UK freshman guard received sufficiently captured the magnitude of what he did.

Since Harrison's heroics drove UK to finish as the 2014 national runner-up, I've been contemplating this question: Is it possible that one player hit three of the 10 greatest clutch shots in Kentucky men's basketball history over the course of three games in the same NCAA Tournament?

In the March 6, 2012, Herald-Leader, I produced a list ranking the 25 greatest clutch shots in UK men's hoops history. To make the list, a shot had to be a buzzer beater or a basket that directly provided the winning margin in a game (not free throws, however). Shots were evaluated both on degree of difficulty and what was at stake in the games in which they occurred.

Some of the shots on my list were hit in games that Kentucky ultimately lost. To me, that does not detract from "the clutchness" required in real time for the players to make those shots.

Below is my revised list of the top 10 clutch shots in UK basketball history. The answer to the question "Did Aaron Harrison hit three of them?" is yes.

10. Vernon Hatton vs. Temple, 1958 Final Four. Hatton's layup with 17 seconds left gave UK a 61-60 victory over the Owls in the national semifinals. It was not the first time that season that Temple felt the late-game sting of Hatton (as you will see).

9. Aaron Harrison vs. Louisville, 2014 NCAA Tournament round of 16. Harrison buried a trey from the deep left corner with 39 seconds left that put UK ahead to stay in what became a 74-69 Big Dance victory over Kentucky's most-hated rival.

8. Jim Master vs. Louisville, 1983 NCAA Tournament round of eight. In the massively hyped original "Dream Game," Master hit a baseline jumper at the buzzer to force overtime. Alas, UK got blitzed in the OT and lost 80-68.

7. Brandon Knight vs. Ohio State, 2011 NCAA Tournament round of 16. Knight's pull-up jumper over Aaron Craft with 5.4 seconds left allowed UK to oust the No. 1 overall seed Buckeyes 62-60.

6. Aaron Harrison vs. Michigan, 2014 NCAA Tournament round of eight. Two days after his big shot against U of L, Harrison did it again, draining a contested three from the deep left wing with 2.3 seconds left to beat Michigan 75-72 and put Kentucky into the Final Four.

5. Scott Padgett vs. Duke, 1998 NCAA Tournament round of eight. Six years after Christian Laettner's dagger into the heart of The Unforgettables, Scott Padgett provided Kentucky with catharsis when he drilled a three from the top of the key with 39.4 seconds remaining that gave the Cats the lead for good in what became a sweet 86-84 victory.

4. Vernon Hatton vs. Temple, 1957-58 regular season. Hatton's 47-foot set shot with one second left in overtime tied a game that UK eventually won in triple overtime, 85-83. To this day, "Hatton's heave" may be the most famous shot in Kentucky lore.

3. Aaron Harrison vs. Wisconsin, 2014 Final Four. Harrison buried another contested trey from the deep left wing, this one with 5.7 seconds left and UK down two. The shot beat Wisconsin 74-73 and put Kentucky into the national championship game.

2. Anthony Epps vs. Arizona, 1997 NCAA championship game. With UK down three, Epps sent the national title game into overtime with a double-clutch, three-pointer with 12.1 seconds left. Had Kentucky gone on to win, it would be one of the most famous shots in college hoops history. Arizona prevailed instead, 84-79.

1. Sean Woods vs. Duke, 1992 NCAA Tournament round of eight. In what many consider the greatest college basketball game ever played, Woods' 12-foot running bank shot over Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner with 2.1 seconds left in overtime put UK ahead 103-102. Had the game ended there, Woods' shot would be the one replayed over and over and over each March. Laettner, instead, trumped it with a buzzer beater that won the game for Duke.

For the curious, the three shots Aaron Harrison knocked from my previous list of the Top 10 Greatest UK Clutch shots were: Scott Padgett's game-tying, step-back three-pointer with 17.9 seconds left against Kansas in the 1999 NCAA round of 32; Shelby Linville's game-winning layup with 12 seconds left that beat Illinois 78-76 in the 1951 Final Four; and Patrick Sparks' around-the-rim trey that forced overtime against Michigan State in the 2005 NCAA tourney round of eight (a remarkable shot I hated to drop).

For one player to even be in the argument for making three of the 10 greatest clutch shots in the history of a school that has made as many such baskets as Kentucky is remarkable.

For Harrison to have done it over three games in one NCAA tourney is crazy.

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

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