“This is the part where the ball always goes in.” — TBS/CBS broadcaster Jim Nance.
LEXINGTON — The Kentucky Wildcats continue a magical stretch where they seemingly never cease to amaze.
Chapter Five in Kentucky’s run ... I’m inclined to say improbable here, but that adjective, like nearly all others, doesn’t do these Wildcats justice.
Anyway, Chapter Five (representing all UK’s NCAA Tournament victories so far) ended late Saturday night in Dallas with freshman guard Aaron Harrison hitting a 3-point shot from Plano, Texas, with some six seconds left to lift Kentucky to the 74-73 win over Wisconsin in a Final Four semifinal.
The Wildcats, 29-10, move on to face 31-8 Connecticut tonight at 9:07 for the national championship. UConn upset top seeded Florida, 63-53, in the other semifinal, earlier Saturday night.
If Kentucky can get the job done tonight, it will be the Wildcats’ — all together now — ninth national crown. And it would arguably be the most, well, I can’t help myself, improbable.
When Aaron Harrison went up for the shot Saturday, just as the ball left his fingers, Nance uttered the words at the top of this story ... both an appropriate and remarkable phrase, ranking up there in the Big Blue Nation, at least, with Al Michael’s 1980 question and answer: “Do you believe in miracles, yes!”
The shot was almost a replica of Harrison’s trey that beat Michigan with three seconds left in last week’s Midwest Region final, 75-72.
In terms of sheer drama, this 25-footer (or thereabouts) was up there with the 3-pointer he hit in the closing seconds against Louisville two days before that, taking the air out of the Cardinals in a 74-69 regional semifinal win for Kentucky.
Which came only some five days after his ice-in-his-veins clutch shooting played no small role in Kentucky’s win over previously undefeated Wichita State, 78-76.
“It was a great shot,’’ said Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker Saturday night in the post-game press conference, referring to Harrison’s latest dagger. “Aaron has been doing that all tournament. He’s got that clutch gene.”
“I don’t know about that clutch gene,” Harrison replied, when told what Dekker had said. “I just like winning.”
Uh huh, like Donald Trump likes money.
“To hit that shot ... if that’s what I have to do to win, that’s what I have to do,” Harrison added. “If it was a rebound or something else I had to do to win the game, that’s what I would try to do.”
One of many remarkable aspects to Harrison’s shot is that nothing else happened the first 39 minutes and 54 seconds to suggest this was his night.
Aaron Harrison scored only five points leading up to his game-winner. His finale was the only 3-point shot he attempted all night.
“I trust these kids,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
Calipari has said that all season, but many of us (blush) didn’t believe him, especially when the Wildcats were 22-8, unranked, and sad sack, 72-67, losers at South Carolina March 1.
But flash forward just 36 days, for gosh sakes, and you come to the moment when the Wildcats briefly huddled in the closing seconds vs. Wisconsin, and Calipari shouted to his players: “’We’re going at (to) Aaron, boys, anybody got a problem with that?’
“Now, he wasn’t open,” Calipari said of Aaron on the play. “It went to Dakari (Johnson). Dakari threw it to his brother (Andrew Harrison). His brother was smart enough to say, ‘I’m going to give it to you.’ It was an NBA three, contested and he made it.
“It’s crazy that he does it.”
Crazy. Yeah, that’s a good word for all of this.
“See, guys that make game winners are not afraid to miss them,” Calipari said. “And he (Aaron Harrison) is not afraid to miss. The best players I’ve had played that way and can make those kinds of shots. They have amnesia from play to play.”
The Wildcats had many heroes in this one, of course (as did the hard-luck Badgers, for that matter).
The usual suspects stepped up. Freshman swing man James Young had 17 points and five rebounds, freshman forward Julius Randle added 16 points and five boards, and Johnson added 10 points and seven rebounds.
All good numbers, but the keys to this win beyond Aaron Harrison’s obvious contribution, may have been the eight points and seven rebounds from Alex Poythress, a grizzled sophomore forward, who may be playing his way into the NBA Draft.
And don’t overlook another 10 energetic minutes from freshman center Marcus Lee. Or Kentucky’s relative little engines that could — senior guard Jarrod Polson and freshman guard Dominique Hawkins.
Polson and Hawkins kept Kentucky in it late in the first half after Aaron and Andrew Harrision went to the bench with two fouls each and the Wildcats teetering dangerously close to being out of this game.
As it was, Kentucky cut a nine-point Wisconsin lead down to just four, 40-36, at halftime. And the two teams then battled to the wire in another classic college basketball game.
Only to see it settled at high noon, so to speak, in Texas, by Aaron Harrison.