Wiedmer: UK's postseason for the ages

Wiedmer: UK's postseason for the ages

April 7th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

After fouling Wisconsin guard Traevon Jackson in the final minute, Kentucky guard Andrew Harrison (5) reacts with teammates including guard Aaron Harrison (2) during their NCAA Final Four tournament basketball semifinal game Saturday, April 5, 2014, in Arlington, Texas.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

ARLINGTON, Tex. - Aaron and Andrew Harrison weren't always identical twins about to share the backcourt for Kentucky against Connecticut in tonight's NCAA title game.

The 6-5 freshmen who look so much alike UK coach John Calipari forced them to get different haircuts in order to tell them apart, were once just kids playing H-O-R-S-E in the family driveway in Richmond, Tex., a Houston suburb.

"Those games would never end," said Andrew, the Wildcats' starting point guard. "Not until the sun went down."

Added Aaron, "They were tough. If one of us won, we'd just start another game. They'd go on and on."

And who won the most?

"Oh, I did," Aaron smiled.

That would shock absolutely no one who's watched this 2014 NCAA tourney, of course. The Wildcats' last three victories -- a 74-69 win over defending champ Louisville on March 27, the 75-72 victory over Michigan on March 30 in the Midwest Regional final, and Saturday's stunning 74-73 victory over Wisconsin -- all came courtesy of last-second 3-pointers from Aaron's radar right arm.

OK, so the trey to dethrone U of L actually came with almost 40 seconds to play. But the NBA-length triple against Michigan rippled the nets with 2.6 seconds to go. The slightly longer Wisconsin dagger left just 5.7 seconds on the clock.

"He's got that clutch gene," said Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker said of Aaron after wiping a tear or two from his eyes.

Added Calipari, "Guys that make game-winners are not afraid to miss them. It was an NBA three. It was an NBA contested three and he made it. It's crazy that he does it."

But it's not much more crazy than this: Playing 18 minutes in the second half with one of the best defenders in the Big Ten, Traevon Jackson, draped all over him, Andrew Harrison committed zero turnovers. Zero. A freshman hounded by a junior. Zero.

"No one expected us to be here," Andrew said Sunday of a UK team that started the year No. 1 but had slid out of the Top 25 by the end of the year after losing nine regular-season games. "Just go out and have fun."

This is arguably the most fun postseason run in Kentucky's long, strong history. Despite owning NCAA tourney records for most total wins (116), most appearances (53) and second most titles (eight to UCLA's 11), these 29-10 Wildcats are the first team to win four straight tourney games without ever leading at halftime. They've also trailed by at least nine points at some point of all four of those games. Their combined victory margin in those contests (11 points) is also believed to be a record.

"When we're down 10, it's amazing how we play," Cal said. "We're not real good up 10. But for some reason, down 10, we grow hair on our necks. We come after you."

Connecticut figures to come at Cal's Cardiac Kiddie Cats harder than anyone all year. The Huskies' backcourt of senior Shabazz Napier and junior Ryan Boatright might be the most polished and peskiest in the game.

For proof, merely consider that Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin, the Southeastern Conference player of the year, had committed two turnovers in four NCAA tourney games before Saturday. He committed three against UConn as the Gators posted season lows in assists(3) and points (53).

"Not many guards have kept Scottie out of the lane," said Florida coach Billy Donovan. "Those guys kept him out of the lane."

So the Harrisons guiding UK to its ninth national championship tonight will be anything but easy. Especially if UConn junior forward DeAndre Daniels -- who went for 20 points and 10 rebounds against the Gators -- can reprise those numbers against Big Blue.

But again, this isn't like any other Kentucky team. At least not to this point.

On one end of UK's all-freshman starting five is the third Texan on this team, Julius Randle, the 6-9 inside talent from Dallas who is expected to be among the NBA's first five draft picks.

Asked to describe his night after the Cats' big win against the Badgers, "If I told you when I really went to bed, Coach would probably kill me."

Yet on the other side of the body clock is freshman wing James Young, who reportedly got 10 good hours of sleep Saturday night.

"I kind of sleep through everything," said Young. "I just love sleeping."

The rest of this year's 68-team field slept on 7th seeded UConn and 8th seeded UK much to their chagrin. The two become the first teams since Texas Western and Kentucky in 1966 -- the "Glory Road" game to you movie lovers -- to reach the NCAA title game after failing to make the field the prior year.

And UConn fans should possibly take much comfort in Texas Western's (now Texas-El Paso) victory that night, plus the fact that the Huskies' last two titles have been won in the Lone Star State (San Antonio in 2004 and Houston three years ago).

Yet whatever happens tonight, the journey through this tourney has been one that no Wildcat fan may ever forget.

"My daughter tweeted last night that she'd just become my second favorite Aaron -- she spells her name E-r-i-n -- after Aaron's shot," grinned Cal. "She's still my favorite Erin."

At least for one more night.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com