No surprise, Kentucky legend Aaron Harrison drills another winner
Already courting Kentucky legend status, Aaron Harrison cements it with a winning 3-pointer to beat Wisconsin in the Final Four. His dad says this is nothing new.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Aaron Harrison story just got ridiculous. He was already a legend, already a hero in Kentucky for the 3-pointer he made last week to beat Michigan and put the Wildcats into the Final Four. Hit that shot at that moment for that fan base? You're famous forever. Just the way it is in Kentucky.
Do it twice?
In consecutive NCAA Tournament games?
Aaron Harrison is ridiculous. And this 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds left that beat Wisconsin 74-73 on Saturday night in the Final Four was more difficult than the Michigan 3-pointer -- under similar defensive pressure but for bigger stakes, with less momentum and with more to lose. The shot against Michigan, Harrison's fourth 3-pointer in the final eight minutes, broke a tie and helped the Wildcats avoid overtime.
This shot against Wisconsin, this 24-footer that I promise you is already embedded into millions of state residents' brains, was Harrison's first 3-point attempt of the game. He had played all 20 minutes of the second half and taken only two shots in the half, seven for the game. It wasn't his night, not as far as shooting goes, so with five points on 2-for-7 shooting he was doing other stuff. He was handling the ball more as his brother, Andrew, was taking a game-high 14 shots.
"He hadn't really looked to pull up the entire game," Wisconsin's Josh Gasser said of Aaron Harrison. "I saw him start to rise up ..."
"Impossible," is how Kentucky teammate Marcus Lee described what happened next. "[Aaron] has no conscience. That proves it."
Last week against Michigan, Harrison tried to be the hard guy. He hit his shot and walked away from everyone, toward the defensive end, with a stoic look on his face that said he does this stuff all the time. Julius Randle was having none of it, chasing him down and then giving him a 250-pound chest bump, and the facade was broken and Aaron Harrison was smiling as he jogged to the bench.
After hitting this shot against Wisconsin, Harrison got real. He burst into a smile and ran toward his teammates, wanting to share this moment. This second moment in two games.
In the front row of AT&T Stadium, opposite the Kentucky bench, one person in the NCAA basketball-record crowd of 79,444 watched what happened and wondered what will become of his son now. Aaron Harrison Sr. knows basketball and he knows Kentucky, and he knows what these people do for their favorite sons. And he knows his son, his namesake, just became a lifelong legend in Kentucky.
"Even before you asked me about that," Aaron Sr. told me, "I was thinking the same thing: 'Man, he's going to be a legend now.' But this is what he does."
I was set to walk away from Aaron Sr. after getting the comment I wanted, about his son becoming a legend, but that was intriguing. This is what he does? Tell me more, Mr. Harrison.
"He's been hitting game-winners since he was in fourth grade," Aaron Sr. said. "His first one, he was about 10 years old and it was as far as that shot against Michigan."
Stop it, I say.
Aaron Sr. raises his hand and places it on an imaginary Bible.
So how many of these winning shots, I ask Aaron Sr., has your son made?
The elder Harrison thinks about it for a minute, going through eight years of AAU basketball in Texas, most of them as his son's coach. He tries to come up with a really big number and fails, so he comes up with a smaller number. But still a ridiculous number. A number I challenge, because this is what Aaron Sr. finally told me:
"His final year of AAU ball, 17-and-under, we played 75 games," Aaron Sr. said. "And he hit 12 game-winners."
Stop it, I say.
Aaron Sr. gives me the hand again, and the imaginary Bible, and swears on it.
"I told you, this is what he does," Aaron Sr. said. "He wants that last-second shot. Not everybody wants it, but he wants it. He goes looking for it."
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan compared it to "the shortstop that wants the ball hit to him when the bases are loaded and two outs. [But] wanting it and doing something about it are two different things. He's done something about it. So you got to give him credit."
In a way, this was Harrison's third straight game-winning three. His shot with 40 seconds left against Louisville in the Sweet 16 gave Kentucky a 70-68 lead, which the Wildcats never relinquished. Harrison then clinched the 74-69 win with two free throws with two seconds left.
Then came Michigan.
Then Saturday night, after Aaron's brother had just made a potentially game-losing mental error, closing out too hard on Wisconsin's Traevon Jackson and paying for it when Jackson jumped into Andrew and the referees bought it, giving Jackson three free throws to break a 71-71 tie. Jackson hit two, and it was 73-71 with 16.4 seconds left.
During the timeout before Jackson's free throws, Kentucky coach John Calipari had told his players, "We're going at Aaron, boys -- anybody got a problem with that?"
Silence and smiles, that's all Calipari got. James Young, Kentucky's leading scorer with 17 points, swears he saw Aaron smiling when he got the ball in his hands with less than 10 seconds left.
"When I saw him grab it and kind of smile, I figured he was going to make it," Young said.
"He's got that clutch gene," Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker said.
"I don't know about that," Aaron said.
What he definitely has is one more game to play. The biggest game of the season, one of the biggest games in Kentucky basketball history. The national championship game Monday night against UConn.
It can't happen a third time in a row, right? That would be ridiculous.
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