After the 19-year-old kid pulled up and hit a 3-pointer from NBA range with 2.6 seconds left, Aaron Harrison flashed a grin and raised his arm, then his teammates mobbed him at midcourt with the kind of celebration that came after Kentucky beat Michigan 75-72 Sunday in the Elite Eight. This was an astonishing game-winning shot, a fantastic finish to an instant classic on an afternoon when the Wildcats showed the world, a victory in ways amazingly unimaginable for a Kentucky team that struggled with maturity and togetherness for much of the season.
America, here comes Kentucky.
Yes, the basketball program you loathe, a team everyone loves to hate will play in the Final Four for the third time in five years under coach John Calipari. It’s my understanding that so many people wanted to see Kentucky fail because the most polarizing figure in college basketball lured the best-ever recruiting class of all time. It’s my understanding that so many people wanted to see UK disappoint because every good story in sports needs a villain.
America, Kentucky is your villain.
You hate the Wildcats.
So much has happened in one year, and most of it had plenty to do with the emergence of a young and talented Kentucky team. In the midst of it all, these players have matured and grown up as a team in the last few months, waking up just in time to make a dominating run to the Final Four. The twins, the real catalyst to Kentucky’s late-season surge, have been extremely clutch, hitting big shots at key junctures of the game. Aaron, and his twin brother, Andrew have emerged as clutch shooters and one of the greatest backcourt duos in the college game.
Last year, of course, no one was talking about the Wildcats. Last year, Kentucky missed the NCAA tournament after a handful of losses. It was a disappointing blow to a hopeful Wildcats team, a basketball program that entered the preseason ranked No. 1 in the nation before taking a turn for the worse. But this year, Kentucky is going to the Final Four and will play in the national championship game. The narrative of this season has been about this all-freshmen starting five who will leave for the NBA to become millionaires. This season has been about a coach who recruits the nation’s top players and reaches the Final Four almost every April. Big Blue Nation will watch the Wildcats cut down the nets next Monday night at AT&T Stadium in North Texas.
Aaron, now in his first Final Four, one win away from a national title, is probably one of the nation’s top guards. Now is a good time to thank him for knocking down a clutch 3-pointer when Kentucky needed it. Now is a good time for the University of Kentucky and John Calipari to treat him to dinner at a five-star restaurant. The Wildcats are an eighth-seeded team from the Southeastern Conference that will play for a national championship. Until this tournament, perhaps the most notable thing about Kentucky was Aaron and Andrew, and without the Harrison Twins, the Wildcats would not be playing in the Final Four next Saturday.
This is exactly what the twins have done, navigating what has been one of finest basketball programs. Before all of this, as the Harrison Twins struggled to gel with the rest of the Kentucky roster weeks ago, the Wildcats were an utter disaster. The disadvantages of building around freshmen and essentially sticking to the one-and-done culture had exemplified failure to begin the season. But the Wildcats had finally salvaged their seasons, and the twins developed as players and played like veterans. And now, Kentucky has beaten three Final Four contenders in the past three weeks, knocking out the Big Ten champion Michigan, topping the defending national champion Louisville and defeating unbeaten Wichita State.
Andrew Harrison, who had eight points, six assists and three rebounds Sunday, is the point guard. Sometimes he turns the ball over too much, finishing with four turnovers. His brother, Aaron, is the shooting guard, and certainly he played like one, and is much better than Andrew — shooting wise. But mostly because Aaron, who likes to have the ball in his hands at all times, makes the game-winning shots and comes up big when it matters. Which is exactly what he did, scoring his first 3-pointer with over 8 minutes left in the game and giving Kentucky a 58-55 lead.
Aaron can shoot it without conscience when his team needs a basket, but he’s not a great rebounder, playmaker or shot blocker, weaknesses that he’s exposed throughout this tournament. He continued to make shots, hitting a 3-pointer with 4:20 left and giving the Wildcats a 65-61 lead, which was easily Harrison’s best performance of the season. Of course, Andrew trusts his brother, and because he dished the ball out to him, Aaron buried shot after shot. Aaron was feeling it for much of the second half, and single handedly dominated Michigan, and when he stared into the crowd, the blue-clad fans fiercely roared. His teammates came leaping off the bench when the buzzer sounded at the end of the game, and the Kentucky kids sent Harrison onto the floor.
It was no shock. Let’s realize that. It all makes you forget about Kentucky’s 10 losses this season, and just because the program was placed as an 8-seed, doesn’t mean anything. It’s pointless to say the least when only Florida, among all the No. 1 seeds, reached the Final Four.
The Wildcats are scary good, and even America knows not one team in the Final Four can beat them. Only the Wildcats can beat the Wildcats.