Harrison 3 sends Cats to Final Four

Aaron Harrison shoots the game-winner.

Kentucky freshman Aaron Harrison made an All-American prediction 29 days ago for his once-struggling Wildcats. On Sunday, he helped write the "big, great story" that he suggested with a game-winning 3 to beat Michigan and send UK to the Final Four.

It was somewhere in the neighborhood of 9 o'clock on the evening of Saturday, March 1, when Aaron Harrison made a comment so implausible that it barely got any traction outside of a few circles.

His Kentucky Wildcats had just lost 72-67 to what was at that time SEC cellar-dweller South Carolina in a game which saw the Wildcats trail by as many as 16 points and their head coach ejected after a pair of technical fouls in Columbia.

Surrounded by reporters in the postgame interview session, Harrison expressed faith that his team could get its season turned around despite suffering an eighth loss in a year that began with a No. 1 ranking and had produced thoughts on an undefeated run.

"Because we know what we can do," Harrison said when asked to elaborate on his unusually-timed surge of confidence. "… We know what we can do, and we know we're going to make a run to have a big, great story for everyone to talk about."

Fast forward 29 days.

It was only fitting that Harrison was the UK player pulling up for a long 3-point shot from the left wing – a well-defended, step-back 24-footer over Michigan's Caris LeVert with 2.6 seconds remaining – that gave Kentucky a 75-72 victory over the Wolverines in the Midwest Region finals at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

"I said it, so I guess I saw it coming," a smiling Harrison said of his prediction. "I wouldn't say that 'I told you so' or anything. But we knew we had a few things to fix. And yes, that was a bad loss (to South Carolina), but we knew what kind of team we could be. So that's pretty much why I said it.

"We showed a lot of toughness. We're just a group of tough young guys, doesn't matter about the age or anything anymore. We just try to go out and fight and keep our heads down and swing the whole game, and we just fight so hard."

The seemingly unsinkable Wildcats – a No. 8 seed who overcame deficits of nine points against top-seeded Wichita State, 13 points against No. 4 Louisville and 10 points on Sunday against No. 2 Michigan – advanced to the 16th Final Four in school history.

Ironically, Kentucky became the first team since Michigan's 1992 squad -- the "Fab Five" -- to advance to the Final Four with an all-freshman starting lineup.

Kentucky (28-10) will play another Big Ten opponent, Wisconsin (30-7), on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Dallas in the second national semifinal. The first game will feature SEC champion Florida (36-2) against UConn (30-8) out of the AAC.

The Final Four will be a homecoming of sorts for many of the young Cats. Julius Randle is a Dallas native, while twin guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison are from Richmond, Texas.

All three played key roles in the win over Michigan. Aaron Harrison went 4-for-6 from 3-point range for all 12 of his points. Andrew Harrison scored eight points and dished out six assists in running the UK offense at the point. Randle (16 points, 11 rebounds) posted his 24th double-double of the season and his fourth straight in the tournament.

They were all nearly overshadowed by the game's unsung hero, freshman center Marcus Lee, who turned in a stunning 10-point, 8-rebound, 2-block line coming off the bench in the place of the injurred Willie Cauley-Stein.


Marcus Lee slams in two of his 10 points in the Cats' first-half run. (USA Today Sports Photo by Bob Donnan.)

Lee had logged only 11 minutes in March before playing 15 against the Wolverines. He had not played 15 since the season-opener on Nov. 8 against UNC Asheville.

"(Calipari) told the team I was going to have a big day," Lee said. "Knowing us, none of us believed him."

"And everyone in the world would be talking about you is what I said," the UK boss replied. "Proud of you, kid."

All of Lee's points came in the first half -- each basket coming on a putback dunk -- to help UK dig out of a 32-22 hole and pull even at 37 going into halftime.

Kentucky surged back into the game by scoring on their final eight possessions of the first half and five of the first seven to begin the second half. The Cats shot 53.4 percent from the field and outrebounded the Wolverines 35-24, including 17 offensive boards, seven by Lee.

James Young scored 13 points and went 3-for-4 from long range to give UK a fourth player in double figures.

Michigan (28-9) got 24 poitns from guard Nik Stauskas, who torched the Cats for 17 points in the first half, but he managed just seven in the decisive second half. Glenn Robinson III added 14 points, including two huge 3-pointers down the stretch to keep the Big Ten champs within striking distance.

Harrison's last three treys came in the final 4:19. Each time, it answered a Michigan score to draw closer to the Cats.

Said Michigan coach John Beilein: "Give them credit. Tip your hat. (Harrison's shot) was a long ways away... He had big-time shots for them."

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