Cat Scratches
Interactive Twitter Facebook

Cats keep momentum moving forward with semifinal win

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Aaron and Andrew Harrison combined for 34 points in UK's win over Georgia in an SEC semifinal on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Aaron and Andrew Harrison combined for 34 points in UK's win over Georgia in an SEC semifinal on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ATLANTA - John Calipari hasn't done a lot of smiling this season.

He was supposed to when he pieced together the nation's top recruiting class and his team started the year atop the polls, but his sideline demeanor this season has been reduced to head shaking, foot stomping and looks of disgruntled frustration.

After Andrew Harrison saw the shot clock wind down late in the second half, pulled up for a 3 and drained the shot to give Kentucky a 61-48 lead - essentially the final nail in the coffin for Georgia - Coach Cal stared down his point guard until he got his attention and just grinned.

"He was just telling me to be the closer today and that's what I tried to do," Andrew Harrison said. "My teammates found me and I made the shot."

The smiles were harder to come by Saturday than they were in UK's confidence-restoring rout of LSU, but for a team that lost three of four to end the regular season and the faith of many, including some of its fan base, gutting out its second straight win - a 70-58 victory in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament - was important to keep the momentum moving forward.

"Vital," Willie Cauley-Stein called the win. "(If) we're going to make this run, these are just steps to get us on that run. ... If would have took two steps back, our confidence would have been shaken a little bit. It's good that we get to go forward, you know, keep that confidence."

The confidence is as high as it's been all season for the Wildcats (24-9) after UK fought through a foul-riddled first half and past a game Georgia team (19-13) playing for its NCAA Tournament life to advance to the SEC Tournament championship for the fourth time in five seasons under Calipari.

UK will face Florida on Sunday at 3:15 p.m. on ESPN.

"I hope when you watch us you say, 'This is a different team,' " Calipari said.

At times during Saturday's game, one could say that. The beginning was one of them.

The Cats picked up where they left off Friday with an impressive 12-2 run to start the game. James Young rained in two 3-pointers, Andrew Harrison got involved distributing the ball early, and the Kentucky contingent, which made up roughly 80 percent of the 20,330 fans at the Georgia Dome, rose to its feet and started roaring.

It looked like a UK rout until the whistles started blowing.

Foul after foul suddenly infested the game, and Kentucky, playing without several of its key rotation guys, found itself in a dogfight with a Georgia group that thrives on mucked-up games.

The Bulldogs got as close as two points when Kenny Gaines laid in a shot with 15:11 to play, but the Cats answered adversity for the second day in a row.

Leading 46-43 just seconds later, UK went on the game-defining run when Dakari Johnson snagged a long offensive rebound, fought through a couple of grabs on the way to the hoop and then banked his shot in as Nemanja Djurisic fouled him.

Johnson missed the free throw, but Cauley-Stein chased down the rebound, kicked it out to Andrew Harrison, who swung it to Aaron Harrison for one of his game-high four 3-pointers.

Aaron Harrison missed a 3 on the next possession, but Young flew in for the offensive rebound and tipped it in with his left hand. Just like that, UK was up 53-43 and well on its way to the SEC Tournament championship.

"Coach just told us to crash the glass," said Young, who scored 14 points despite sitting most of the first half with two fouls. "I saw the ball come off my way so I just tried to go for it. I've got to do that a little bit more."

Georgia hung around a little bit longer, but Andrew Harrison provided the dagger with the aforementioned 3-pointer from the top of the key.

All told, Andrew Harrison finished with 12 points, a career-high nine assists and five rebounds. It's the second day in row the UK point guard has set a new career high in assists. Of course, Andrew Harrison credited his teammates with his 17 assists over the last two days.

"They make me look good right now," he said. "Just finding them, and they're knocking down their shots."

Andrew Harrison's twin brother, Aaron, was the beneficiary of Andrew's distribution on Saturday. Aaron Harrison scored a game-high 22 points Saturday, and of the seven field goals he made, four were assisted by his brother.

"I know he's having fun," Aaron Harrison said of his brother. "He loves assists. I think he just needed--we just have to have heart. That's how he's always played and that's how he's going back and loosening up."

Calipari said the difference for the Harrison twins has been a fresh start. With all the adjustments the Cats have made in the last week, a message from Calipari to forget the regular season may have been the biggest change they've made all year.

 "I think a lot of this was the weight of the world on these guys," Calipari said. "All of them. The weight of the world of it's not only playing at Kentucky, taking everybody's best shot, every game as a sellout, every game's the other team's Super Bowl. It also is the clutter they're hearing. All the stuff they're trying to deal with, all the high expectations, and then all of a sudden, 'They stink.'

"These players don't stink. 'Oh, they're no good, they're overrated.' They're very good players, but they're 18 years old."

Coach Cal shredded DVDs in front of the team to show them the regular season is history. He's also taken a more positive approach with the players

"It helped me take a deep breath and step back and relax - think about what we could accomplish," Andrew Harrison said.

Despite all the regular-season struggles, the Cats can still claim an SEC championship on Sunday and much more in March. The notion of that seemed to difficult to fathom as recently as a week ago, but with the way Andrew Harrison is leading the Cats, it's not out of the question.

"We're not the same team," Calipari said. "We're not the same team we were two, three weeks ago."

It took a tweak and more physical practices for that to happen, but more than anything, Calipari said it just took time.

"We're starting five freshmen, folks," he said. "Five freshmen trying to do something unique and special. This team, they're starting to come together. We're now one of those teams that you would hope we would have been two months ago, but so what? It took time. I'm good with it."

To bring you more expansive coverage, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be joining forces for the postseason. You can read the same great stories you are accustomed to from both sites at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog, but now you'll enjoy even more coverage than normal.

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL: http://cstv.collegesports.com/mt5.2/mt-tb.cgi/53391

Leave a comment




Recent Comments