BOZICH | Kentucky, Aaron Harrison Make Michigan, Skeptics Disappear
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WDRB) – Most guys who were playing the way Aaron Harrison was playing would have found themselves planted next to the head coach. This time Harrison's body language wasn't bad. His game was.
For more than 30 minutes Kentucky was locked in a punch-and-jab, back-and-forth, tough-and-tougher game against the University of Michigan in the Midwest Regional final at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Winners go to the Final Four. Losers wrap their jerseys around their heads and explain what went wrong.
Aaron Harrison wasn't doing anything to get Kentucky to Dallas, where the Final Four begins next Saturday. Took five shots. Missed five shots. Rebounds? Didn't have any. Assists? None of those either. Steals or blocks. Empty. He did have four fouls.
If Kentucky was going to Texas, somebody else was going to have to take the Wildcats there. Maybe Marcus Lee, who stepped out of November to score 10 points. Maybe Julius Randle, who was collecting baskets (16 points) and rebounds (11) the way he usually does. Maybe James Young, who had already stuck three three-point shots.
Not Aaron Harrison. He was a guy Michigan didn't have to fear.
That's not the way it works with this Kentucky basketball team now. That's not the way it has worked for the last three weeks. They've stopped flinching and fussing when things look bad.
Nobody was going to tell this Kentucky team it was time for the Wildcats to disappear from the NCAA Tournament bracket. Nobody was going to tell Aaron Harrison to take a seat. Better to tell him to take bow. That is the body language he earned Sunday as the Wildcats defeated Michigan, 75-72.
"Nobody can tell him he's not the greatest," said Harrison's twin brother, Andrew. "You really don't have to tell him anything to give him confidence. He's not like that … That's a good thing."
Actually, it's an unforgettable thing. It was Aaron with two As – as in assassin – who ensured the Wildcats are one of the last four teams still playing college basketball.
After doing nothing for nearly 32 minutes, Aaron Harrison did everything for the final eight minutes – if you consider everything making four three-point shots including the extraordinary game-winner with 2.6 seconds to play.
That's the one that officially gave the Wildcats their 75-72 victory over the Wolverines, the one that matched UK in the national semifinals against Wisconsin, the one that created the possibility that Kentucky could play either Florida or Connecticut for the national title on April 7.
"We showed a lot of toughness," Aaron Harrison said. "We're just a group of tough young guys, doesn't matter about the age or anything any more."
Several things are remarkable about what Aaron Harrison did. You can start with difficulty of the four three-pointers he made while scoring a dozen of Kentucky's final 20 points.
The first one put Kentucky ahead, 58-55, with about eight minutes to play. The next one pushed the Wildcats' lead to 65-61 less than four minutes later.
He was merely warming up. Harrison pushed the Kentucky lead to 72-67 with two minutes left.
Then there was the one that will ensure that Michigan fans remember Aaron Harrison the same way Kentucky fans remember Christian Laettner.
He made it after a handoff from his brother. He made it after initially fumbling the basketball. He made it when it appeared that Kentucky might not even get a shot. He made it with Michigan defender Caris LeVert playing defense that Michael Jordan could not criticize.
Check the pictures. LeVert had his left hand extended as if he was giving Harrison a high-five. Aaron said that LeVert actually touched him on the release of the shot. LeVert said he could not think of one thing that he could have done better.
"In the timeout we wanted to foul with about 10 seconds on the clock and we did that," LeVert said. "Then we were set to switch every screen. We switched them. Make them shoot a contested shot. We made them do that. He just hit the shot."
How would you describe how well you contested it?
"I don't know," LeVert said. "I'll have to see it. I thought it was a pretty good contest. It seemed pretty far."
Were you surprised that it went in?
"Yeah," LeVert said.
"It was a great game," said Michigan center Jordan Morgan. "They stepped up and made big shots. It was a tie game for all but two seconds. What else can you do?"
A month ago everybody outside the Kentucky locker room would have been surprised that Kentucky was even playing in the game. But John Calipari's team has delivered three awfully powerful clues that they are capable of winning the national championship.
They overcame unbeaten Wichita State and forced the Shockers to miss a buzzer-beater a week ago. They silenced the talk that Louisville was going to win another national championship by beating the Cardinals Friday night. Aaron Harrison made a king-sized three-pointer from the corner to deliver that victory.
Now they have taken out Michigan, a team that won the Big Ten title by three games, a team that played in the national final last season, a team with two first-round NBA draft picks.
Call the roll: The Wildcats have beaten three teams ranked in the top seven in the nation – Wichita State (2), Louisville (5) and Michigan (7) – while making the plays that needed to be made in the final minute of the game.
Does this team expect to win a national title?
"Honestly," said forward Alex Poythress, "I think so. We don't doubt ourselves."
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