“It’s going to be a great story.” When Aaron Harrison uttered those words during the post-game interviews following the loss at South Carolina, many thought it nothing more than bravado, perhaps even delusional. After all, this was what was arguably the low point of UK’s season. This was March 1 and the team had still not “gotten it.” Not only were fans not seeing tangible progress and growth of the team, it actually appeared as though these young Cats were regressing. There certainly seemed to be no hope of a great story emerging from this season.
But nobody saw what was coming, other than perhaps the players themselves. There was the infamous “tweak” and the team that opened play in the SEC Tournament bore little resemblance to the team that had just 5 days earlier been beaten down by Florida. From that point forward, the Cats were a brand new team. They played with focus, purpose and an undeniable will to win. Though the Cats fell 1 point short of capturing the SEC Tournament crown, once they began NCAA play, it became clear this Kentucky team was going to be a force to be reckoned with in every round. The story that was being written showed promise of being just as great as Aaron had promised on that dark day a month earlier.
The story of the five games won by Kentucky thus far has been well-documented. Record after record was being broken. First team to beat three of the previous year’s Final Four teams. First team to beat the defending National Champion and National Runner-Up. Since 1985, the team with the lowest combined margin of victory to reach the Final Four (5 games won by a total of 18 points). Each game seemed to bring another opportunity to not only write an unbelievable story to add to Wildcat lore, but to write more history in the NCAA record books.
But no matter how exciting this story has been, it does have to come to an end. Against all odds, the final chapter to this story will be written tonight in the National Championship game. How will it end, though? Will the game follow the script we have seen in the previous 5 tournament games? If so, expect the Cats to come out solid for the first 2-3 minutes and then appear to get a little tight. They will fall behind by a little and then, most likely be facing a double-digit deficit. The Big Blue Nation will not panic, though; we know the routine. Once down by a larger margin, the Cats seem to kick it into overdrive. Focus is sharpened, energy is increased and execution improves. The deficit is erased and the Cats take the lead.
Of course, with these Cats, it won’t be that simple. This young team appears to have a flair for the dramatic. They storm back to take the lead and then let their opponents hang around so there can be lots of drama in the closing minutes. Each passing game has bolstered the confidence the fans have in this team. BBN now expects the Cats to lose their lead late in the game. But we’ve also come to expect the last-second heroics of, you guessed it, Aaron Harrison. Yes, the same Aaron Harrison who promised us we would be writing this great story. Three consecutive games, Aaron has put up a highly contested, game-deciding 3 point shot and three consecutive games, the shot has been good.
This story is quickly transforming from a great read to one of historical proportions. And should this story have the greatest ending possible, a 9th National Championship for the Wildcats, “double-A Ron” (thanks, Rex Chapman, for that nickname!) is going to be one of the most beloved players to ever don the Blue. A title won’t be won by Aaron’s play alone, though. After losing Willie Cauley-Stein to an ankle injury, unlikely stars have emerged. Marcus Lee, virtually invisible for much of the season was a key in defeating Michigan. Alex Poythress, who had been in a bit of a slump for a few weeks, made momentum-changing plays that were key to eventually getting the victory. And Dominique Hawkins has been providing invaluable minutes off the bench, playing some of the best defense of anyone on the team. Add to that the usual suspects of Randle, Johnson, Young and Andrew Harrison and you have what could be the perfect recipe for a team ready to cut down the nets.
So we await the final chapter to this epic story. In just hours, we will know the ending. Win or lose, the story is going to be incredible, no doubt about it. But a victory and banner number 9 would make this quite possibly the greatest story every told. And Aaron, if that is the ending, you have every right to say “I told you so.”