Aaron Harrison’s shot did more than just give Kentucky an improbable victory in an improbable NCAA run. It also turned the freshman from Fort Bend Travis into a folk hero.
Overnight, “Aaron” has become the most popular name for babies in the Bluegrass State.
“That’s really crazy,” Harrison said Sunday.
Even coach John Calipari joked about it.
“My daughter tweeted out she thought she just became my second favorite Aaron/Erin she thought,” Calipari said. “She’s still my favorite Erin.”
Harrison made the shot heard ’round Kentucky when his 25-footer from the left wing fell through the net with 5.7 seconds left Saturday. It lifted him alongside Duke’s Christian Laettner, Valparaiso’s Bryce Drew and UCLA’s Tyrus Edney, among others, as legends in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s just the best feeling in the world,” Harrison said. “Of course, everyone knows when you’re a kid, you’re thinking of hitting game-winning shots. It’s just unreal to be able to actually do that in a big-time game and win a game for your team. It’s just the best feeling in the world that you’re able to take that last shot and make that last shot for the team.”
It was not the first time, or even the second time Harrison has enjoyed that feeling. Three times in eight days Harrison has played the part of hero.
“I’m not sure [anyone has] hit three in a row like this,” Harrison’s twin brother, Andrew, said. “He’s the only person on the universe that I’ve seen could do this. It’s amazing.”
Aaron Harrison made a 3-pointer for the go-ahead score against Louisville with 39 seconds left in a 74-69 victory in the Sweet 16. He then hit a 3-pointer from 24 feet with 2.3 seconds left for a 75-72 victory over Michigan in the Elite Eight. On Saturday night, it was a 25-footer with 5.7 seconds left that sank Wisconsin 74-73 in the Final Four.
Calipari nicknamed him “Aaron the Assassin.”
“The biggest thing is he’s not afraid to miss,” Calipari said. “He’s OK with that. He’s comfortable in his own skin. He knows how hard he’s worked.”
The pictures from the Michigan game and the Wisconsin game, lined up side-by-side, look exactly the same aside from the opposing team. In one, Aaron Harrison elevates over Michigan’s Caris LeVert. In the other, it’s Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser.
But it wasn’t the same play.
With 16.4 seconds remaining Saturday, Calipari told his team, “We’re going to Aaron, boys. Anybody got a problem with that?” The shot, though, came on a broken play as freshman center Dakari Johnson nearly committed a turnover.
Once the ball got into Aaron Harrison’s hands, the game was all but over.
Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker declared afterward that Harrison has the “clutch gene.”
“He has knocked down a ton of big shots,” sophomore forward Alex Poythress said. “He’s been there for us all season, and he comes up in the clutch for us every time.”
The Wildcats have been there, won that — the entire tournament. Their five victories have come by a combined 18 points, the narrowest margin by a team entering the title game since the field expanded in 1985.
Kentucky is the first team to win four consecutive NCAA Tournament games by five or fewer points in the event’s 76-year history.
“Late in the game, they have an unbelievable will to win,” Calipari said.
The Wildcats wear T-shirts that read: Refuse To Lose.
So far this tournament, Kentucky is living by its motto.