National Columnist

Ready, America? Big, bad Kentucky's back, and headed to Final Four

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INDIANAPOLIS -- Andrew Harrison is the one with the hair. America, you're going to have to learn this. Andrew has the hair, and Aaron has the jump shot, and Kentucky has both of them, and America you're just going to have to deal with it.

This is a nightmare for so many people, because Kentucky is Everything Wrong with college basketball. It has too many players who dare to go to the NBA to become millionaires as soon as they can. It has a coach who dares to recruit them. It has a fan base that shows up everywhere and dares to make itself heard. And this will not do for lots of people, so lots of people may not want to go to Dallas next week.

Because Kentucky will be there. The twins, the coach, the fans. Big Blue Nation is coming to Texas after Kentucky beat Michigan 75-72 on Sunday for the Midwest Regional title at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Kentucky will be in the Final Four for the third time in five years under John Calipari because Aaron Harrison, the one with the jump shot, buried a long 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds left to break a tie.

"It was ridiculous," said Kentucky forward Julius Randle, a Dallas native who earned region Most Outstanding Player honors. "On that stage, that atmosphere, in that game. To take that shot to send us to the Final Four ... "

Kentucky will be there because Andrew is the one with the rebounds and the assists, and Aaron is the one without the conscience. America, you need to know this because Kentucky definitely will be in the Final Four and might be in the final two and could very well be the team cutting down the nets next Monday night at Jerry Jones' football stadium. That's a fact to be determined later, but this is a fact to be determined right now: Kentucky has beaten three Final Four-caliber teams in the past eight days, stacking Big Ten champion Michigan on top of defending national champion Louisville on top of undefeated Wichita State.

"When you think of who we had to play, and the games were epic games, all of them ..." Calipari said, then lost his train of thought and asked the media if his team had trailed by double digits in all three games, then tried to continue his thought and gave up because he was happy and he was exhausted and so he concluded like so:

"What was your question?"

Doesn't matter -- but this does, America. You paying attention? Andrew is the point guard, the one who fills more boxes on the stat sheet than any of his teammates. Andrew Harrison had eight points, six assists and three rebounds Sunday. He also had four turnovers. Hey, he fills 'em all.

Aaron Harrison is the shooting guard, the one who doesn't do much beyond shoot it -- he had zero rebounds, zero assists, zero steals and zero blocked shots Sunday -- but who shot it without fear or conscience when his team needed buckets and his brother kept giving him the ball. With 8 1/2 minutes left, the score was tied at 55 and Aaron Harrison had no points. He had tried only four shots all game, an indifferent performance at best, but Andrew kept giving Aaron the ball, and Aaron started shooting, and he just couldn't miss.

His first 3-pointer came with 8:06 left and gave Kentucky a 58-55 lead. His next one came with 4:20 left and made it 65-61. Another with two minutes left made it 72-67. Then came the one with 2.6 seconds left over 6-foot-6 Michigan wing Caris LeVert, a 24-footer at least, an NBA shot in so many ways that made it 75-72.

On all four occasions, the ball came to Aaron Harrison from his brother Andrew, the one with the hair and the duty to run the team. Kentucky needed buckets. Andrew needed to find his brother. Aaron provided.

After the last one, Aaron Harrison tried to walk away and do the mean-mug thing. He tried to stare into the crowd, seeing everyone and no one, and give a stoic look that said he does this sort of thing all the time. He was fighting off a smile, you could see that, and he might have succeeded had Julius Randle not run across the court and delivered a 250-pound chest bump that knocked the smile onto his face. Aaron Harrison gave up, smiling broadly as he ran to the bench for the last timeout of the game.

Michigan coach John Beilein called that timeout to get the ball to Nik Stauskas one last time, and Stauskas -- who hit five of his first six shots and scored 18 of his 24 points in the first half -- got the shot but missed it from near midcourt.

The buzzer went off and Aaron Harrison was mobbed by teammates, most of them coming from the bench, most of them little-bitty walk-ons, and Harrison was holding his own until 7-0, 265-pound Dakari Johnson arrived and sent Harrison and the walk-ons and then the entire Kentucky team onto the floor, six or seven future NBA players wriggling on the court in joy.

One of those future NBA players was Marcus Lee, and America, you need to know this. Never mind that Kentucky lost 10 games this season and was given a No. 8 seed for the NCAA Tournament. And it deserved that No. 8 seed. That wasn't a conspiracy theory by the selection committee, trying to ensure Kentucky faced the hardest road possible to the Final Four. Kentucky did face the hardest possible road to the Final Four, mind you -- beating the Nos. 1, 2 and 4 seeds along the way -- but Kentucky deserved it. Ten losses? That No. 8 seed was deserved, and then some.

But America, know this: Even with the 10 losses, even with the No. 8 seed, Kentucky is the most talented team in the field. The Wildcats are so good, Marcus Lee barely played this season. He had scored nine points in 2014 -- seriously, nine points in Kentucky's 29 games since Dec. 1 -- but then detonated all over Michigan on Sunday for 10 points (and eight rebounds and two blocked shots) in 15 minutes.

Seven of Lee's rebounds were on the offensive glass. Four of his five field goals were dunks on put-backs, and these were game-changing, mood-swinging, possibly season-saving plays. Kentucky was playing without injured 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, and starting center Dakari Johnson committed turnovers on his first two touches Sunday. Kentucky trailed 11-4 when Calipari looked down his bench, saw Marcus Lee -- who didn't play against Kansas State or Wichita State in Kentucky's first two NCAA Tournament games, and who played only one minute against Louisville in the Sweet 16 -- and ran him out there.

Said the Michigan coach afterward, when asked if Michigan had much of a scouting report on Marcus Lee: "No, we had very little on him."

Said the Kentucky coach afterward, when reflecting on what Marcus Lee had just done: "Proud of you, kid."

Said America, at the specter of mighty Kentucky hitting the Final Four with the best roster in the country, playing its best basketball of the season:

Oh, no.

 
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