UConn and Florida meet again, Harrison twins behind Kentucky’s Final Four run
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- The last time Florida lost there were still 23 shopping days until Christmas.
The Gators have won every game since that loss at Connecticut on Dec. 2. The teams meet again Saturday in the Final Four. They both have changed and they both have stayed the same.
"They are high right now. They are playing great basketball. They are sharing the basketball. They are all playing hard. They haven’t lost since then. It will be really tough," Huskies forward DeAndre Daniels said Friday. "We feel great. ... I feel like nobody is playing harder than us right now. We are just out there having fun and not playing for ourselves, but playing for each other."
Connecticut, the seventh seed in the East Regional, has won nine of its last 11 with both losses to Louisville. That’s no 30-game winning streak but it’s enough to have the Huskies two wins from a fourth national championship and the first under a coach besides Jim Calhoun.
Florida, the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed, is looking for its third national title, the first two coming in consecutive years under coach Billy Donovan.
Shabazz Napier hit a buzzer-beating jumper from the free throw line to give Connecticut (30-8) the 65-64 victory in Storrs, Conn., four months ago. The dramatic win didn’t exactly propel the Huskies as they lost three of their next five games.
Whether they’re setting up game-winning shots or hitting them, Andrew and Aaron Harrison have become the maestros orchestrating Kentucky’s unexpected run to the Final Four.
Andrew is the point guard who runs the show. He’s dished out 21 assists in four NCAA tournament games, including six in a win over Michigan that sent the Wildcats to Dallas.
Aaron is the shooting guard with the hot outside stroke. He had 12 points against the Wolverines, including the deciding 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds left in a 75-72 victory.
Naturally, his twin brother made the pass.
Now, the Harrison boys will try to guide Kentucky past Wisconsin in the national semifinals on Saturday night, and move one step close to winning the Wildcats’ ninth national title.
"It’s a great feeling. Not too many people get to reach the Final Four," said Aaron, older than his brother by a minute, "so now that we’re here, we’re just trying to stay focused."
Good luck with that.
Everyone wants a piece of the Harrisons, who grew up near Houston and are Texan through-and-through -- even if they made the cardinal sin of choosing the round ball over the pigskin.
They have gleaming smiles that flash pearly white teeth, making them the darlings of the TV folks. Their effervescent personalities charm writers, if you can coax them out of that shell that they sometimes erect. And they have a biting sense of humor that borders on crude, according to teammates who’ve been reduced to tears by a well-timed joke in the locker room.
"The Harrisons, good family, mom and dad raised them and did right," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "They were coached, they are skilled. They just had to be challenged in a lot of different ways that they had never been challenged."
They were taught the game by their father, Aaron Sr., who runs a successful car dealership and was an accomplished player in his own right. He would drag them to the YMCA or the rec center, putting them in games against boys a year or two older than them, and then almost callously tell them to work harder and get better when they couldn’t get on the court.
It was that upbringing that fueled a competitive streak in the Harrisons. Skinned knees. Bloody noses. They were the price of success, starting in youth basketball and all through high school.
"My job is to help define their roles, to bring them together, to get them to understand," Calipari said. "I’m happy it was done. I just wish I had done it earlier."
Then again, maybe it was done just in time.
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