Friday, February 23, 2018
Sports

Kentucky's Aaron Harrison fears no 3

ARLINGTON, Texas

Once upon a time, a thousand dreams ago, Christian Laettner caught a long pass, turned and hit one of the most iconic shots in NCAA Tournament history to lead Duke over Kentucky.

He did it once.

Once, a million bounces of the ball ago, Evan Turner crossed midcourt and threw up a miracle to help Ohio State beat Michigan.

He did it once.

Once, a billion story lines ago, Keith Smart took the ball in the corner and launched a winning jump shot to lead Indiana past Syracuse.

He did it once.

Aaron Harrison?

He has done it three times. And if it takes a fourth, you get the feeling he is ready.

In the history of clutch, there has never been a guy quite like Harrison, the Kentucky shooting guard. Who has ever knocked down three game-winners in a single tournament before? These days, Harrison is Joe Montana and Michael Jordan and Kirk Gibson all rolled into one. Another player might own the court for 39 minutes, 50 seconds. But when the nitty gets gritty, the game belongs to Harrison.

Can there be any doubt of that now?

Late Saturday, trailing by two, Harrison nailed his third winning shot in eight days to open the door for Kentucky to reach tonight's national championship game. Once again, he stood impossibly far from the basket, and once again, he launched a long-range shot in the final seconds, and once again, he drained it.

Against Louisville in the region semifinals, he hit a 3-pointer with 39 seconds to go for the win.

Against Michigan in the region final, he hit a 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds to go for the win.

Against Wisconsin, he hit a 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds to go for the win.

Got a minute? Then Harrison is your guy. Think of it like this: If he's open in the final seconds tonight, you can expect UConn to simply tackle him.

"It's just the best feeling in the world," said Harrison, a soft-spoken 6-foot-6 freshman from Richmond, Texas. "It's like being a part of history. Everyone knows that when you're a kid, you're dreaming of hitting the game-winning shot. It's unreal to be able to do that in a big-time game and win a game for your team. Just to see the joy on your teammates' faces is great."

By now, it's also routine. Think of it like this: One winning shot lasts a lifetime. Two is being greedy. Three is the stuff of legend.

Given how much the state of Kentucky loves basketball, they may soon name streets after Harrison. They'll name schools after him. Maybe, they'll put his face on money.

Oh, and then there are the babies that will be named for him.

A reporter told Harrison on Sunday that he had received a half-dozen texts from fans saying they planned to name their first-born after the freshman.

"That's crazy," Harrison said, grinning. "But it doesn't surprise me. These fans are great, and Big Blue Nation is everywhere."

Yeah, it has even affected the Kentucky coaching staff. Coach John Calipari said his daughter had tweeted that she was now his second-favorite Aaron (she spells her name Erin).

"The biggest thing is that he's not afraid to miss," the coach said. "He's okay with it. He's comfortable in his own skin. If you're going to make those kinds of shots, you absolutely cannot be afraid to miss them."

No, Harrison isn't exactly bashful. Take Saturday night. he had missed five of his seven shots before the winner.

By now, however, the 19-year-old has the last few seconds down. Calipari had called a play for him, but the play had broken down. Still, Harrison found the ball in his hands and launched it. And, once again, he hit it.

"I thought I had missed it," said Harrison, who is 3-for-3 on game-tying/go-ahead 3s in the final minute of his NCAA Tournament games but had zero such attempts in the regular season. "I thought it was going to go off the back of the rim. But it went down. I'm blessed."

It might be hard to believe now, but Aaron was considered the lesser of the Harrison twins when he and brother Andrew signed with Kentucky.

As it turns out, Aaron was the most prophetic of the Wildcats. This year, after the Wildcats lost to South Carolina, he proclaimed that this season would end up being a great story for the team. He was on target with that, too.

At the time, no one knew that Harrison would write the ending.

And again.

And again.

   
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