Kentucky Blog - College

Andrew Harrison had his first big-impact game against Cleveland State, and did it when Kentucky needed him most: down the stretch.

Hindered with foul trouble, he directed Kentucky's late-game charge that turned an upset alert (and concerning loss) into a close win with a couple redeemable takeaways.

As Kentucky changed the score from a 47-54 to a 63-57 lead in the last seven minutes, Harrison directly factored into 12 of those 16 Kentucky points.

"Great players get better under pressure," Harrison said.

"Andrew made the plays," John Calipari said. "It's nice to know we got two or three guys now we can go to if the game is in the balance."

How'd he do it? Let's take a closer look:

Lobs

I've been critical of Harrison's ability to create for others this season. Through five games he hadn't drove from the perimeter to initiate offense and get his teammates open looks.

Late in the game, he was able to do that against a packed-in zone by taking advantage of mistakes and using his bigger frame.

In this play, Harrison capitalizes on a Cleveland State breakdown -- you can see one of the guards scrambling across the top of the zone to retreat back toward a UK shooter, leaving the other guard slightly susceptible to a drive to the left. Harrison does just that, and even better, is able to read the floor. He's got a shoot/pass/pass option here with both Willie Cauley-Stein and Julius Randle hovering near the basket; he chooses Cauley-Stein and places a quick lob pass in a perfect location.

Andrew Harrison’s clutch play against Cleveland State

And this one, where Harrison takes advantage of a defense that's scrambling, out of place and in no shape to defend a drive. I especially like that Harrison passed up decent opportunities for either a pull-up jumper or floater (the lane was pretty clear for either) for a great look to Cauley-Stein.

It's the direct opposite of one of Calipari's criticisms, who said that Harrison is too often "not ready to play" when he gets the ball. Calipari said Harrison "needs to know he's a playmaker for us" and drive it immediately upon receiving a pass, which is precisely what he does here:

Andrew Harrison’s clutch play against Cleveland State

And-ones

Harrison did a much better job of driving with confidence against Cleveland State than, say, Michigan State, when he would try to beat his man and then end up stuck in traffic in the middle of the lane, forced into a bad shot or pass.

Granted, it's a much easier defense to drive and finish against, but these types of plays were encouraging to see for a player that has seemed to struggle with deciding when to facilitate and when to be the natural scorer he's always been.

Andrew Harrison’s clutch play against Cleveland State

And this one, where UK's offense flows smoothly from a Harrison-to-Harrison dribble handoff into a Harrison-Cauley-Stein pick-and-roll that Harrison uses to beat his man:

Andrew Harrison’s clutch play against Cleveland State

An Aware Assist

This was a less eye-catching play, but one I think it just as important. Calipari runs the same exact set as the one directly above -- a Harrison/Harrison dribble handoff into a Harrison/Cauley-Stein pick-and-roll -- and I think Harrison shows some crucial patience in navigating his way and being aware of what's going around him.

It would have been easy, given his previous successes at attacking, to just blindly charge into the paint. Instead, he realized the lane wasn't open and slowed down, but still remained active to find James Young for an open shot. (Also not shown: a craft little dribble-hesitation move as he went around the pick, although that move didn't result in anything great.)

Andrew Harrison’s clutch play against Cleveland State

Ultimately, Harrison showed some very encouraging things down the stretch. I'm not ready to say it was a "coming-of-age" game for him. Not only was it against Cleveland State (so grain of salt), but it was only one game. No matter who it came against, I'd still want to see him do this type of stuff more consistently, both within a game and from game-to-game.

Although Randle says Harrison's clutch play wasn't surprising to him.

"I mean, I didn't need to see him do it," Randle said. "I knew he could do it. But maybe for himself. He needed to see himself do it so he can have confidence and know, 'I can do it.'"

Harrison is arguably the player UK needs to play up to his full potential the most out of those not doing so. Behind Randle, I think he can be UK's second-best player on the offensive end.

"He really stood out," Young said. "He directed us a lot. He told us where to go, what to do. He just really stepped up."

We'll see if he can build on those last seven minutes against Eastern Michigan.

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