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Aaron Harrison Cements UK Legacy, Propels Wildcats to Title Game

ARLINGTON, Texas — Few questions remain about this Kentucky team. The main one will be answered Monday—Can a bunch of freshmen win a national championship?—and in a way, the Wildcats’ legacy still has a lot on the line five-sixths of the way through what, to this point, may be the most idyllic run through the NCAA Tournament any team has ever dared.

And let it be clear how daring this all is: Kentucky will play for the national championship Monday after winning its five NCAA Tournament games by a combined 18 points. In one of those games, the other team had a shot in the air as time expired to tie, and in two, it was to win. Easier ways to win should have found themselves by now to a team that seems impossible to beat, but if this team’s formula—intended or not—is simply to get the game into Aaron Harrison Range, then that’s just as well at this point.

Before we go any further, let’s talk about Aaron Harrison Range. This goes in a few different directions: time and space. Aaron Harrison Range is however you want to define late in the game. After the final media timeout of Kentucky’s wins over Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin—the games in which Harrison had the winning shots—he’s 4 of 5 from the floor, 4 of 4 from three-point range and 2 of 2 from the foul line. The one miss was a driving layup with 1:55 to play against Louisville with the game tied.

Aaron Harrison Range with regard to space seems endless. His three to beat Wisconsin on Saturday with 6.4 seconds to play—by the way, Kentucky beat Wisconsin 74-73 in the national semifinal Saturday, which is a sentence that probably belongs a bit higher up in this story—was from NBA range, probably about 24 feet or so. It didn’t really matter where he shot it. He was the one shooting it, so it was going in.

“We all have confidence in Aaron,” Dominique Hawkins said. “Even if he shoots a half-court shot, we think it’s going in. If Aaron gets the ball, we’re so calm on the—well, we’re not calm on the bench. But we feel like when he gets the ball, he’s going to find a way to score for us.”

Harrison’s shot Saturday was different than the one against Louisville because it was with six seconds left instead of about 40, and it was different than the one against Michigan because it was a tie game against the Wolverines. When Harrison looked Josh Gasser with what several teammates said was a smile on his face and pulled up from NBA range, Kentucky was down two.

Harrison is running out of ways to one-up himself, yet somehow he’s done it each of the last two games. This run has come out of nowhere, and so too has Harrison as its undeniable hero. Derek Willis called him “the most clutch player in college basketball.” Dakari Johnson said his nether regions keep growing shot after shot. Jon Hood called him a Kentucky basketball legend.

To a fan base perhaps more proud of its tradition than any other in college basketball, those aren’t words to be taken lightly. But if Aaron Harrison hasn’t earned it at this point, he never will. To Hood, a native Kentuckian, the legends are the ones shown in pre-game hype videos at Rupp Arena and whose names become synonymous with the games they won and the shots they took. Few questions remain to be answered about this Kentucky team. At this point, it’s probably just the one. But none loom on where Aaron Harrison stands among all this.

“Cameron Mills, Scott Padgett for his three. Shepp,” Hood said, referring to Jeff Sheppard. “DeMarcus because of the call me. John (Wall): first game he plays in, he hits a game-winner. Big players.

“Big players that do big players in big times: That’s your definition of a legend right there.”

This story appears courtesy of KY Forward and is written by James Pennington. KY Forward's coverage of UK Athletics is sponsored by Republic Bank.