Aaron Harrison comes up short against tougher guards

uard Aaron Harrison of the Kentucky Wildcats looks on during the second half of the Elite 8 of the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Quickens Loans Arena on Saturday, March 28, 2015 in Cleveland, OH. Kentucky defeated Notre Dame 68-66 to advance to the Final Four in Indianapolis. Photo by Michael Reaves

By Kyle Arensdorf

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Sophomore guard Aaron Harrison played his best game of both tournaments against West Virginia.

He had 12 points in the first half without missing a shot. His 12 points were more than the Mountaineers had as a team for the first 16 minutes of the contest. He even popped back in his dislocated finger to rejoin his team on the bench, much to the excitement of head coach John Calipari.

West Virginia’s Daxter Miles Jr. had opened a can of worms with his pregame comments, and the Mountaineers were having a hard time putting the lid back on.

Harrison was responsible for breaking West Virginia’s will in that dominant stretch the Cats had to begin the game. He was able to respond to Miles Jr.’s trash talk, and his teammates weren’t surprised by his inspired play after the game.

“We call him ‘Ice.’ That’s who he is. He came out strapped,” junior forward Willie Cauley-Stein said of Harrison’s performance, adding that Harrison loves when people trash talk because he’s at his best when people call him out.

However, Notre Dame took a different approach in its press conference Friday, complimenting the Cats’ performance thus far and saying they’d have to be nearly perfect on offense to beat the (at the time) 37-0 team.

And right on cue, the Cats came out flat. And Harrison disappeared like he hadn’t since the team’s Tournament-opening game against Hampton. He was 2-for-7 from the field for six points. He did have an important dunk and that classic Aaron Harrison 3-pointer from the elbow, but before that he had just one point in the first 35 minutes of play.

So what happened? Was that much killer instinct sucked from Harrison’s veins because there wasn’t any excess motivation? That can’t be a factor with only two games separating the Cats and history.

Now, to be fair, Notre Dame wasn’t West Virginia. The Mountaineers were overmatched and outsized, and they didn’t stand much of a chance against UK. And the three guards Harrison had to shoot over were 6-foot-1, 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-3.

The Irish, on the other hand, were a more formidable opponent, with three starting guards measuring 6-foot-5. Harrison was also plagued with that injured finger — though he said the finger wasn’t bothering him.

Wisconsin is cut from the same cloth as Notre Dame. Each veteran team doesn’t go far down their bench and can get crazy hot from beyond the 3-point line. They also start one guard who measures in at 6-foot-3, and two that measure 6-foot-4.

UK’s saving grace all season has been its ability to cover up one player’s struggles with two players being equally hot. But this is the time of year the Cats need to be firing on all cylinders.

Especially since after Saturday, Wisconsin knows UK can be had.