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Shooting numbers have gone up as shot selection has improved

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James Young is shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range in the postseason. (Chet White, UK Athletics) James Young is shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range in the postseason. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The more John Calipari called this group a great shooting team, the more it seemed to miss.

Clanks here. Bricks there. Some shots would just outright miss everything.

Coach Cal's words seemed hollow.

Then something happened right at the start of the postseason. Suddenly the Wildcats started making shots.

Since the postseason began at the Southeastern Conference Tournament, UK is shooting 41.2 percent from 3-point range, up from 31.6 percent in the regular season.

To give you some perspective, Creighton led the country this year in 3-point field-goal percent with a 41.4-percent mark. Undoubtedly, the ability to make shots has given UK a different dimension.

"Aaron (Harrison) and James (Young) are really knocking down their shots, making big shots for us," Andrew Harrison said.

Aaron Harrison and Young especially have been better since the postseason began. The former is shooting 50 percent in the postseason (22 of 44) from behind the arc and the latter is making them at a 41.4-percent clip (12 of 29). Both are noticeable increases from their regular-season numbers.

"We're shooting with a lot more confidence than we have been," Young said. "We're getting a lot of extra shots up, coming in each day shooting at least 30 minutes worth, and really just staying confident with all our shots."

Young said they've been having really good pregame shoot-arounds, which he says have spilled over to the games. But perhaps there's more to it than that.

In the loss at South Carolina, Kentucky's shooting woes got to the point where the Cats almost seemed to ditch the perimeter shot altogether and just drive to the hoop in hopes of getting fouled. The strategy turned into habit and habit turned into bad shot selection.

Since the well-known "tweak" Calipari made before the SEC Tournament, the offense appears to have opened up. It isn't just that shots are going it; it's that shot selection is better.

"I think Andrew's really starting to create shots for us," Aaron Harrison said. "We're just trying to knock them down."

And as they've gotten better shots, their confidence has gone up, allowing them to brush off the misses. They've learned to put the previous play behind them and not worry about misses, a revelation for a team that struggled so mightily with it earlier in the year.

"If you miss a shot, you just have to go on to the next one in your head," Aaron Harrison said. "It's just a mental thing."

That probably explains why Aaron Harrison was able to shine so late in the Michigan game after struggling so much early.

After missing all four of his shots in the first 32 minutes of Sunday's game, Aaron Harrison shook the adversity off and made the final four, all from 3-point range and all in the biggest moments of the game. In the previous game, against Louisville, Aaron Harrison hit the go-ahead 3 with 39 seconds left after making just two of his previous 12 shots.

The most important one of the weekend, of course, was the game-winning 3-pointer vs. the Wolverines from the top of the key with 2.6 seconds left.

"I think we all just learned that it's all about winning," Aaron Harrison said. "It doesn't matter individually what you're doing. You just have to do whatever you can for the team to win."

Since that big shot, Aaron Harrison has been nicknamed a number of things by the fans, including "Mr. Big Shot" and "Big Shot Aaron." Calipari, on his weekly radio show Monday night, called him "an assassin."

"A couple of kids have said stuff about it," Aaron Harrison said. "I feel like the big man on campus, really."

His teammate Dakari Johnson had a much more colorful description of his fortitude, but unfortunately it's PG-13 material on a PG site.

"Yeah, I (heard) it," Aaron Harrison said. "It's pretty funny. It's not surprising from Dakari. Pretty funny."

All jokes aside, if the Cats need another big shot at the Final Four and it comes down to a last shot again, don't be surprised if Coach Cal goes with the hot hand again.

Asked on Tuesday if he would lobby for the last-second shot should the situation come down to it against Wisconsin, Aaron Harrison tried to play off the big-game heroics.

"I don't know," he said, smiling. "It depends on what Coach calls."

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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