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Harrison overcomes early struggles, foul trouble to spur comeback

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Andrew Harrison accounted for 13 points in a 21-3 run that keyed UK's comeback win over Cleveland State on Monday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Andrew Harrison accounted for 13 points in a 21-3 run that keyed UK's comeback win over Cleveland State on Monday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
With 7:41 seconds left, Andrew Harrison checked back in.

The freshman had four fouls, but with Kentucky trailing 54-44 John Calipari had no choice but to reinsert him. The Wildcats couldn't afford to have their point guard on the bench even though he had struggled to that point.

Much the same, Harrison knew he couldn't afford not to step up.

"I knew I had no choice," Harrison said.

With UK facing the biggest upset of the young college basketball season, Harrison took the only path available to him. He was Kentucky's anchor during a decisive 21-3 run, leading the way as the Cats completed a comeback from as many as 11 points down to win 68-61.

"He really stood out, he directed us a lot," James Young said. "He told us where to go, what to do. He just really stepped up."

Harrison scored six of his 12 points -- all on driving and-one layups -- and dished three of his five assists during the spurt. He had a direct hand in 13 of the 21 points scored during the run and only exited after he finally picked up his fifth with 27.6 seconds left and the outcome in hand.

"I thought Andrew made the plays," John Calipari said. "It's nice to know we got two or three guys now we can go to if the game is in the balance."

Harrison showed as much emotion following his two and-ones as at any point in his six-game UK career, glimpsing some of the fire Calipari wants out of the latest in his line of highly regarded point guards.

"Just having a competitive spirit and wanting to win and making big plays to win really," Harrison said. "It's not about me or anything. I just wanted to win. Those reactions kind of come out a competitor, any competitor really."

Harrison has surely heard some of the talk about his early-season body language, but he wasn't thinking about any outsiders during the Cats' rally. The only opinions he cares about are those of his teammates and coaches.

"I feel like I was letting my teammates down pretty much by getting those fouls in the first half and not being as aggressive as I should be," Harrison said. "Hopefully it's a turning point. Tomorrow we're just going to go to practice and start getting better."

Like a true point guard, Harrison was quick to deflect praise following the win over Cleveland State.

"All of us stepped up," Harrison said. "James Young played great. Julius (Randle) in the paint, nobody was getting a rebound at that point, nobody but him. It wasn't me at all. It was them. I was just getting them the ball. They were just making me look good."

Young struggled with his shot for most of the night and even contended with a box-and-one defense geared toward stopping him at times, but that didn't slow him. He hit just 3 for 11 from the field and scored nine points, but it was his energy that buoyed the Cats and his example that Calipari used to inspire his teammates.

"James Young just fought like crazy and came up with balls when we were dead," Calipari said. "If they got those balls, we would lose. That's why I looked at the other guys and I say, 'Fight like he's fighting.' "

Young had a career-high five rebounds, while Randle posted his sixth straight double with 15 points and 15 rebounds in spite of facing constant double and triple teams from Viking defenders. Randle had five more turnovers on Monday night, bringing his season total to a team-high 22, but Calipari has trouble picking nits when he looks at his star freshman.

"Pass a little bit, stop turning it over, but keep getting those double-doubles," Calipari said. "They're really nice."

With Kentucky's upcoming schedule, Randle will face some challenges in looking to extend his double-double streak, which now sits just one shy of Jim Andrews' UK record of seven to begin a season. The Cats have just one day to prepare for matchup with Eastern Michigan at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday to conclude the Keightley Classic.

The Eagles are unbeaten at 5-0, so Calipari sees them as a natural segue into a brutal December schedule that features six opponents ranked 61st or better according to kenpom.com in six games.

"The good news is other than Michigan State, we kind of built them up," Calipari said. "Now Eastern Michigan is the next step. When we go farther, every other team takes us to another level."

Some pundits will sound alarms about Kentucky after a narrow home escape against a heavy underdog, but the Cats believe this is an experience that will benefit them down the road.

"It could have been easy for us to sit back and be like, 'Man, we're not coming back from this,' " Randle said. "But we kept fighting, fighting and we learned that even when we're down we can come together and still win games."

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