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No pain, no gain: Andrew Harrison fights through injury, leads UK to Sweet 16

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Andrew Harrison played with an injured elbow and scored 20 points in UK's round-of-32 upset of Wichita State. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Andrew Harrison played with an injured elbow and scored 20 points in UK's round-of-32 upset of Wichita State. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ST. LOUIS -- Speculation ran rampant for the 39 hours or so following Kentucky's win over Kansas State.

Fans broke down the instant replay of the injury Andrew Harrison suffered in the final minutes. Some wondered whether the actual diagnosis was actually more severe than a hyperextension.

The question underlying it all, however, was simple: Would UK's point guard be able to play against Wichita State in the round of 32's most highly anticipated game?

Funnily enough, that's the same question John Calipari had for Andrew Harrison.

"All I asked him was, 'Are you going to play?' " Coach Cal said.

At first, the answer was no. But as game time approached, Andrew Harrison couldn't help but change his mind.

After receiving around-the-clock of treatment in his hotel room overnight, there Andrew Harrison was walking onto the Scottrade Center floor wearing a sleeve over his shooting arm as a starter. In spite of some initial hesitation, he wasn't about to let his elbow keep him away from this moment.

"I wasn't going to play at first, but I felt like I just had to," Andrew Harrison said. "And I fought through it."

His brother, Aaron, always figured he would.

"He knew we needed him and the team knew we needed him," Aaron Harrison said. "And I've known him for a while, so I thought, I knew he was going to play. He wasn't going to sit out this big of a game."

Andrew Harrison played an instrumental role as UK (26-10) handed top-seeded Wichita State (35-1) its first loss, 78-76, in a game that lived up to its billing and then some.

"Without him obviously you know now it would have been a different game," Calipari said. "We couldn't have won the game."

Andrew Harrison didn't wait long to ease concerns about his elbow, scoring UK's second basket and back-to-back jumpers later to give UK a 19-15 lead midway through the first half. He likely would have avoided one or two of his four first-half turnovers and six for the game if he had been 100 percent, but the Cats had their floor general and the game was on.

In a second half filled with body blows and haymakers thrown by both sides, Andrew Harrison landed more than his fair share. He had 13 points after the break, helping to overcome 51 combined points from Wichita State stars Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker and a 3-point attempt at the buzzer by Fred VanVleet.

"I said yesterday that he would play and I anticipated him playing and he played great," Wichita State's Gregg Marshall said. "He drove it, drove it, shot it very well. ... Tremendous young player. Tremendous young player who had a great day."

He took advantage of the size that made him such a sought-after point-guard prospect, absorbing contact on drives to the basket and repeatedly getting to the free-throw line. He converted seven of his nine attempts there -- including five of six in the final four minutes -- as UK made 15 of 19 after halftime when every point was precious.

"He did a good job and we know we needed him for real," James Young said. "And he just came out there and just led us to the win."

It was the kind of performance expected of Andrew Harrison this season, though such efforts have only become regular in recent weeks.

He and his brother came to be the faces of the hype surrounding this Kentucky team. It began before they even before they set foot on campus, as the UK fans turned to the "Keep Calm, The Twins Are Coming" mantra to ease their minds during a disappointing 2012-13 season.

That pressure and those expectations, in many ways, came to define both the Harrisons and this team according to the outside world. Inside the walls of the Joe Craft Center, it's never been that way.

"This team and what people said about this team, all we have done all year is continue to get better," Calipari said. "We hit some shots. We missed some. Like every team, you hit a hole that you don't play well. But they believed in themselves."

After some subtle changes made before the postseason, Andrew Harrison is showing that belief to the world and redefining his year and his team's in the process.

Coach Cal believed his point guard would eventually come around.

"Because I have been through this 20 years and I've coached every different kind of point guard," Calipari said. "And I have been in a situation -- I don't know what I was thinking. Tweaked a couple of things for him and all of a sudden he is playing different, he's got a smile on his face."

Injured elbow and all, Andrew Harrison was all smiles as the Cats celebrated wildly on the floor following their upset win and later at the dais for UK's postgame press conference. He's in for a week of treatment on his elbow to get ready for a rivalry rematch with Louisville in the Sweet 16, but Andrew Harrison wasn't feeling much pain on Sunday evening.

"I am better now," he said. "Yeah, I'm good."

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.

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