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NCAA Tournament

By LARRY VAUGHT

Don’t expect a decision quickly from guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison about the NBA draft. The Kentucky freshmen have until Sunday to declare for the draft or stay at UK and based on what their father told Houston’s Fox 26, it looks like a decision is several days away.

Aaron Harrison Sr. said the family is “probably midway” through the evaluation process and is still waiting official word from the NBA on the guards’ evaluations. Some mock drafts have both players projected as late first-round picks, some mock drafts have both going in the second round where there are no guaranteed contracts.

“I talked to a gentleman at the NBA and he said he would get it (the paperwork on the evaluations) to me as fast as possible and then we’ll go from there,” said Aaron Harrison Sr. “It’s important. You’re trying to find out what the prospects are for them and where they’ll be drafted and all those things.”

Sporting News’ mock draft has Andrew Harrison No. 21 pick and Aaron Harrison No. 25. Ed Isaacson of NBADraftblog.com also said he would put both in the first round.

Aaron Harrison Sr. told Fox 26 that his sons are not leaning either way. The twins told the station that they are thinking about “all the angles” and that the decision was tough on them and their family.

If both Andrew and Aaron Harrison return, the Wildcats will be a legitimate national title contender again — and perhaps the No. 1 team going into next season. Kentucky would have the Harrisons, Wilie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee, Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis definitely returning along with incoming freshmen Karl Towns, Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker. With Alex Poythress also likely returning and possibly Dakari Johnson as well, that’s another talented roster for coach John Calipari with depth and experience.

On top of that you add talented freshmen in pure point guard Tyler Ulis, skilled low-post scorer Karl Towns Jr., big-time jump-shooter Devin Booker and versatile power forward Trey Lyles. You’ve got a deep, talented and mature roster that actually has what it’s been missing in a locker room voice.

If the Harrisons continue to play the way they did in the postseason and can improve with a push from Ulis and Booker daily, UK could be a much better team next year than this season’s team that make the national title game.

If the Harrisons don’t return, the Hawkin-Ulis combination will be solid at point guard because Ulis has great court sense and is special at the game’s intangibles. Booker is also a knockdown shooter, much like former Cat Doron Lamb.

video courtesy Kentucky Wildcats TV

UK coach John Calipari yells instructions to his team in the NCAA final game loss to UConn. (Victoria Graff photo/all rights reserved)

UK coach John Calipari yells instructions to his team in the NCAA final game loss to UConn. (Victoria Graff photo/all rights reserved)

By LARRY VAUGHT

ARLINGTON — He had shared the message before, but just to make sure national media members understood one last time Monday  night after Kentucky lost to Connecticut that players as talented as those on his team can’t be perfect all the time.

“But these kids aren’t machines. They’re not robots. They’re not computers. I say it again, I wish I had an answer for them later in the game where I could have done something to just click it to where we needed it to go,” said Calipari. “That three in the corner (by Aaron Harrison), if that would have gone, maybe the game changes a little bit, but it didn’t.

“So keep coaching. What do we figure out, how do we do it? And obviously I didn’t have the answers for them.

“But I’m proud of them, they fought and tried and played a really good team that’s well coached. Kevin Ollie played that team exactly how they had to play to have success. People in Connecticut should be so proud of him as a former athlete there, coming back and winning a national title and doing the things he’s doing. He’s a great guy.

“He’s not only a great coach. Believe me when I tell you, we’re telling each other before the game, I love you, he’s telling me I love him, he loves me. I mean, this guy is one of the great guys of all time.

“And I hate losing, but I’m happy he won. I hate losing. But I’m happy he won.”

Photos by Victoria Graff, and property of Schurz Communications, Inc., and vaughtsviews.com. All rights reserved; images may not be reprinted in print or online without permission of the owners. Reprinted images must be attributed to vaughtsviews.com and linked to the original site.

Kentucky guard James Young (1) dunks between Connecticut forward DeAndre Daniels (2) and center Amida Brimah (35) during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kentucky guard James Young (1) dunks between Connecticut forward DeAndre Daniels (2) and center Amida Brimah (35) during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

By EDDIE PELLS
Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — No conference wanted them. Several teammates and their coach left them. The NCAA kept them out for a year.

UConn won it all anyway.

Shabazz Napier turned in another all-court masterpiece Monday night to lift the Huskies to a 60-54 win over Kentucky’s freshmen and a national title hardly anyone saw coming.

Napier had 22 points, six rebounds and three assists, and his partner in defensive lock-down, Ryan Boatright, finished with 14 points.

Napier kneeled down and put his forehead to the court for a long while after the buzzer sounded. He was wiping back tears when he cut down the net.

“Honestly, I want to get everybody’s attention right quick,” Napier said. “You’re looking at the hungry Huskies. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when you banned us.”

Yes, it is only a short year since the Huskies were barred from March Madness because of grades problems. That stoked a fire no one could put out in 2014.

UConn (32-8) never trailed in the final. The Huskies led by as many as 15 in the first half and watched the Wildcats (29-11) trim the deficit to one with 8:13 left. But Aaron Harrison, Kentucky’s big-moment shooter in the last three games, missed a 3-pointer from the left corner that would’ve given the ‘Cats the lead. Kentucky never got closer.

One key difference in a six-point loss: Kentucky’s 11 missed free throws — a flashback of sorts for coach John Calipari, whose Memphis team blew a late lead against Kansas after missing multiple free throws in the 2008 final. The Wildcats went 13 for 24. UConn went 10 for 10, including Lasan Kromah’s two to seal the game with 25.1 seconds left.

“We had our chances to win,” Calipari said. “We’re missing shots, we’re missing free throws. We just didn’t have enough.”

In all, Calipari’s One and Doners got outdone by a more fundamentally sound, more-seasoned group that came into this tournament a seventh-seeded afterthought but walked away with the program’s fourth national title since 1999. They were the highest seed to win it all since Rollie Massimino’s eighth-seeded Villanova squad in 1985.

Napier and Boatright now go down with Kemba Walker, Emeka Okafor and all those other UConn champs of years past. This adds to the school’s titles in 1999, 2004 and 2011.

This one was, by far, the most unexpected.

A short year ago, UConn was preparing for its first season in the new American Athletic Conference after being booted from the Big East and not welcomed by any of the so-called power conferences. Longtime coach Jim Calhoun left because of health problems. And most damaging — the NCAA ban that triggered an exodus of five key players to the NBA or other schools.

Napier stuck around. So did Boatright. And Calhoun’s replacement, Kevin Ollie, figured out how to get the most out of their grit and court sense.

“Coach Calhoun, the greatest coach ever,” Ollie said. “He paved the way we just walked through it.”

They were one step ahead of Kentucky all night, holding off furious rally after furious rally.

Kentucky’s biggest push started when James Young (20 points, seven rebounds) posterized Amida Brimah with a monster dunk to start a three-point play and trigger an 8-0 run.

In the middle of that, Boatright, who shut down Harrison’s twin brother, Andrew, most of the night, twisted his left ankle while receiving an innocuous-looking pass from Napier. He called a timeout. Got it worked on and came back out.

Napier and Niels Giffey made 3s on UConn’s next two possessions, and suddenly, that one-point lead was back up to five — fairly comfortable by this tight, taut, buzzer-beating tournament’s standards.

The big question in Kentucky is what will happen to all those freshmen. Julius Randle (10 points, six rebounds) is a lottery pick if he leaves for the NBA. Young and the Harrison brothers could be first-rounders, too. Big question is whether they’ll want to leave on this note.

They were preseason No. 1, a huge disappointment through much of this season, then came on just in time for a run to the final.

But they got outdone by a team on a different sort of mission — a team led by Napier, who stuck with the program even though he knew the 2012-13 season was for nothing but fun.

Oh, what fun this was, though.

Napier was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player and he earned it on both ends of the court, keeping a hand in Aaron Harrison’s face most of the night and holding him to a 3-for-7, seven-point, no-damage night.

He could also shoot it a bit — including a 3-pointer in the first half when UConn was having trouble dissecting the Kentucky zone. The shot came from about 30 feet, right in front of the edge of the Final Four logo at Center Court, or, as Dick Vitale put it: “He shot that one from Fort Worth.”

They felt it back in Storrs, where they could be celebrating another title shortly. The UConn women play for the national title Tuesday.

If they win, it will be the first sweep of the titles since 2004. The last school to do it: UConn, of course.

UCONN 60, KENTUCKY 54

KENTUCKY (29-11): Young 5-13 8-9 20, Aa. Harrison 3-7 0-1 7, An. Harrison 3-9 0-0 8,  Randle 3-7 4-7 10, Johnson 2-5 1-4 5, Lee 0-0 0-0 0,  Poythress 2-5 0-1 4, Hawkins 0-0 0-2 0. Totals 18-46 13-24 54.

UCONN (32-8): Nolan 0-3 0-0 0, Daniels 4-14 0-0 8, Giffey 3-7 2-2 10,  Boatright 5-6 4-4 14, Napier 8-16 2-2 22, Samuel 1-1 0-0 2,  Kromah 1-4 2-2 4, Brimah 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 22-53 10-10 60.

Halftime_UConn 35-31. 3-Point Goals_Kentucky 5-16 (An. Harrison 2-4,  Young 2-5, Aa. Harrison 1-5, Poythress 0-2), UConn 6-19 (Napier 4-9,  Giffey 2-4, Boatright 0-1, Kromah 0-1, Daniels 0-4). Fouled Out_None.  Rebounds_Kentucky 33 (Young 7), UConn 34 (Daniels, Kromah, Napier 6).  Assists_Kentucky 11 (An. Harrison 5), UConn 8 (Boatright, Napier 3).  Total Fouls_Kentucky 10, UConn 17. A_79,238.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

NCAA Championship UK v UConnEditor’s note: Kentucky fan Kelsey Mattingly sent this to me about 2 a.m. Sunday after UK’s win over Wisconsin. I saved it for today to share to let each of you again relive the feeling she had Saturday — and you probably did, too.

By KELSEY MATTINGLY

With exactly 6:10 to go in the game I knew we were going to lose. My sister was laying in the floor, facing away from the television as she had through the entire second half of the Louisville game. But this time I just didn’t know if her mojo would be enough. I had experienced too many missed last second shots and the tell-tale pain of heartbreak was making its way when there was 7.5 seconds in the game. But then it happened.

AARON FREAKING HARRISON. It happened so fast and I’m certain my heart stopped when the ball left his hands and went through the net because Senator, I have no recollection of those events. Thank goodness for DVR. And say what you want, but if you didn’t cry the moment that thing went in for the third game in a row then you’re lying. Every residence, bar, and base containing members of the BBN erupted. The Clutch Cats had done it again.

But of course this isn’t news to any of you. If you’re reading this, you know what happened just as well as anyone…maybe even better. I’m merely writing this to say thank you. Words cannot express how incredibly blessed I feel to be able to experience this in my life time. Because nothing can compare to this. This run. This team. This chance. What we are witnessing will go down in history as the most amazing post-season experience to have ever been obtained by a team. A team that was catching a lot of heat mid-season. A team that starts five freshmen, five “one and done’s”.

To be able to one day tell my children that I saw Aaron Harrison hit the game winning shot (more than once), Alex Poythress completely take over, and Marcus Lee make amazing breakout plays, that will be the greatest moment. Maybe second greatest. Because how many times will you get to see Aaron Harrison hit a clutch three to win the game? Oh yeah…three.

So tonight while State Street is being burned to the ground and fans are up celebrating until the wee hours of morning, I will soak it all in and be thankful. When we all wake up the birds will sing My Old Kentucky Home and Louisville still won’t exist. Enjoy this Big Blue…this is it. We are it.

 

NCAA Championship UK v UConnBy VICTORIA SUN

ARLINGTON – The collective shouts of joy in the closing seconds of Kentucky’s thrilling 74-73 victory over Wisconsin in the national semifinals on Saturday night were enough to wake the dead.

A mixture of relief and pure ecstasy overcame the Big Blue Nation after freshman guard Aaron Harrison saved the Wildcats for the second consecutive game while the thousands of Wisconsin fans that filled several sections of cavernous AT&T Stadium fell silent to mourn the end of their season.

Harrison’s heroic 3-pointer propelled Kentucky into the NCAA finals. It was eerily similar to the game-winning 3-pointer he made to oust Michigan in the Elite Eight. In that game, Aaron caught a pass from twin brother Andrew and elevated over an outstretched defender to send the Wildcats to their third Final Four in four years.

On Monday, the Wildcats will take on a somewhat familiar opponent, UConn. The Huskies attacked Florida’s usually stingy defense with ease en route to a commanding 63-53 victory against the Gators in the first semifinal game on Saturday night spoiling the chances of an all-Southeastern Conference finale.

The last time these two storied programs met, UConn edged the Wildcats, 56-55 in the Final Four before beating Butler to win the 2011 national championship.

“It was a tough game, it was definitely a tough game,” said UConn senior guard Shabazz Napier. “They always have good players and they still do have great players.

“All them young guys are gaining experience and learning quickly. It’s always going to be tough (playing them). That game came down to the wire, like it always usually does, because that’s a competitive team.”

The following year, UK coach John Calipari led the Wildcats to their eighth national title in school history with six players who got selected in the 2012 NBA Draft, including four first rounders.

Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson are the only two Kentucky players remaining from the 2011 squad that faced Connecticut and Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander are the only three Huskies to have faced the Wildcats in that Final Four.

After the Huskies victory, former UConn coach and Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun, who led the Huskies to three national titles (1999, 2004, and 2011), sounded like a proud father when discussing the outstanding job former player and current coach Kevin Ollie has done with the team in only two short seasons since taking over for Calhoun. Though the Huskies aren’t as big and strong as they were in 2011 when they had Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith, he noted some similarities in the make up of this squad.

“When we play a certain style of basketball, that’s UConn basketball,” Calhoun said. “It’s a different team, it’s led by an incredible coach young coach who is doing a marvelous, obviously, but it’s still got the earmarks of who we are and what we are.”

Who the Huskies are now is a collection of talented and scrappy players who embody the resilient character of Ollie, who willed himself into the NBA with hours of hard work. Entering the game against Florida, it was the Gators that were known for their stifling and switching defenses, but with their season on the line, it was UConn that choked the life out of the Gators.
Florida’s 53 points tied a season low. The Gators made just one 3-pointer and had three assists to 11 turnovers.

“That’s crazy,” said Florida guard and SEC player of the year Scottie Wilbekin. “That’s not usually what we do. All credit goes to them and their guards and the way they were denying and putting pressure on us. “

For eighth-seeded Kentucky (29-10) and seventh-seeded UConn (31-8) the pressure to win another national championship is relative. Both teams entered the NCAA Tournament as “underdogs” and when the two meet on Monday night, their combined seeds will be the highest in history.

When the Wildcats lost five of their last seven games before reaching the SEC Tournament championship game against Florida, very few outside of the Kentucky locker room thought UK would be vying for its ninth championship in school history. The outlook according to outsiders was so bad that Calipari told reporters early in the week that he crawled into a coffin and had himself wheeled out in front of the players so he could proclaim, “We ain’t dead yet!”

Similarly, the Huskies felt that fans and pundits had written them off as well. So as ecstatic coaches and players bounded into their locker room after dismantling Florida, several UConn staffers shouted mockingly, “We had no chance.”

As Calhoun sat watching the game in the stands, he said he was anxious and started sweating because he knew that UConn’s guards were too much for Florida to handle.

The Huskies crashed the party behind the dynamic play of Napier, who entered the Final Four averaging a team-best 18.1 points per game, 5.9 rebounds per game, 4.9 assists per game, and 1.7 steals per game. He finished with 12 points, six assists and four steals against the Gators while emerging forward DeAndre Daniel led the Huskies with 20 points and 10 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season.

Napier spent his freshman year under the tutelage of Kemba Walker, one of the best guards in UConn history, and Calhoun has enjoyed watching him blossom.

“He’s the most valuable player in America, that much I do know,” Calhoun said of Napier.

Kentucky players maintained that they hadn’t watched much film on Connecticut yet, but acknowledged that they are well aware of what the 6-feet-1 Napier means to the Huskies.

Connecticut beat Florida twice this season, while Kentucky lost to the Gators in all three of their meetings. For Kentucky to emerge victorious, the Wildcats will need the 6-6 twins to help contain UConn’s talented backcourt.

“I know they’ve got great guards,” Andrew Harrison said. “We’re going to have to play our best game to win.”

Kentucky head coach John Calipari, right, instructs Aaron Harrison (2) and Andrew Harrison (5) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 68-51. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

Kentucky head coach John Calipari, right, instructs Aaron Harrison (2) and Andrew Harrison (5) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 68-51. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

By LARRY VAUGHT

DALLAS — As we are all in countdown mode for the Final Four matchups tonight, here’s a couple of stories that give you a big more insights into twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison and why John Calipari and UK players enjoy having them for teammates:

— Freshman guard Aaron Harrison honors his aunt with this on his Twitter bio: “#RESTINPEACEAUNTSHERYL” and explained why Friday.

“She passed away about two years ago. Her sons live with my dad now, and they lived with me last year after she died,” Harrison said. “She died from cancer. I know she is looking down on me and my brother. I know she is proud of us, and I know she is proud of her sons. They are great kids, too.”

— One thing Kentucky players did earlier this week to relax before playing in the Final Four was go to a driving range — and some videos even surfaced showing the trash talking the players did to each other.

“We did go to the driving range, but it was just all fun and games,” Andrew Harrison said. “We were talking trash. But we are not golfers.”

And who was the worst?

“Dakari’s the worst — by far,” Andrew Harrison said.

Former Apollo High School and University of Kentucky basketball star Rex Chapman, left, and fellow UK basketball player, Bobby Watson, right, share a laugh Thursday, July 25, 2013, before being inducted into the Owensboro Walk of Fame at a ceremony at Owensboro Country Club. (AP Photo/Messenger-Inquirer, Gary Emord-Netzley, Messenger-Inquirer)

Former Apollo High School and University of Kentucky basketball star Rex Chapman, left, and fellow UK basketball player, Bobby Watson, right, share a laugh Thursday, July 25, 2013, before being inducted into the Owensboro Walk of Fame at a ceremony at Owensboro Country Club. (AP Photo/Messenger-Inquirer, Gary Emord-Netzley, Messenger-Inquirer)

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Former Kentucky guard Rex Chapman and Florida coach Billy Donovan are longtime friends.

Chapman spoke for several minutes with Donovan on the court Friday while the Gators went through their open practice at the NCAA Final Four.  Don’t worry Wildcat fans, Chapman, who lives in Phoenix and has worked as commentator and scout since retiring from the NBA in 2000, still bleeds Kentucky blue. He’ll be calling tonight’s game on Tru TV with Rob Bromley and Dave Baker.

So is Chapman pulling for an all-SEC national championship game between his Wildcats and Florida?  “I’m pulling for a Kentucky final,” Chapman said. “I don’t know how much want to face Florida again.”

Donovan was a Kentucky assistant coach when Chapman was in the NBA and used to go back to Lexington for summer workouts. One of Donovan’s assistant coaches at Florida is John Pelphrey, also a former Kentucky player and a friend of Chapman’s.

Chapman never got to play in the Final Four, and this is the first time he’s been there since Syracuse won the 2003 title in New Orleans.

“With Carmelo Anthony,” Chapman said. “Yep, it’s been a while.”

uk v wisconsin final four logoMADISON, Wis. (AP) — Thirty-seven games this season for Wisconsin and no changes in the starting lineup. The Badgers have been model of consistency in their run to the Final Four thanks in large part to their three-man backcourt.

The contributions and leadership of senior Ben Brust, and juniors Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson have yielded benefits time and again for Wisconsin (30-7), which plays Kentucky in an NCAA tournament semifinal on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Brust is the team’s scoring leader, averaging 12.8 points per game. Gasser, who guards the opponent’s top scorers, was named to the Big Ten Conference All-Defensive team. Gasser came back strong following his return to the lineup after surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Jackson’s readiness was uncertain, but he has been solid at point guard and has come up with big baskets in crucial game situations several times this season.

“Those guys have really developed and they played well together,” associate head coach Greg Gard said. “I think our chemistry and how they meshed” was important.

But having the same starting five all year long wasn’t necessarily the plan. The emergence of freshman forward Nigel Hayes during Big Ten play could have led to an adjustment.

“You start the year wondering, how long were we going to play three guards? Was it going to be until Nigel got ready,” Gard said. “It ended up being that it played to our advantage the whole year and it’s been a good thing.”

Jackson has averaged 12.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game in four NCAA tournament games. His confidence wavered during the season when he fell into a mini-shooting slump, but Gard said he has been impressed by Jackson’s perseverance, especially in pushing past a rough sophomore year.

“I thought if he got through that and was all in one piece when all was said and done, and pointed in the right direction, that he was really going to reap the benefits of it down the road,” Gard said. “He still sometimes gets off the track a little bit, but at times, that boldness and that bravado helps him make plays.”

He’s also getting to the foul line, having made 17 of 19 attempts in the tournament.

The media attention increases each round of the NCAAs, though Jackson and Gasser both said they haven’t felt the added pressure. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan tries to maintain a strict regimen with repetition in practice, and game preparation has been a critical component to the Badgers’ mindset.

Gasser said he believes whichever team handles the off-court pressure better maintains an edge when the game tips off.

“Once the game starts, all the media, all the nonsense throughout the week, it’s kind of thrown out the window,” Gasser said. “Coach Ryan prepares us the same for any game. It doesn’t matter if it’s now in April or it’s back in November.”

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