ARLINGTON, Texas – Aaron Harrison – or "Aaron the Assassin," as John Calipari calls him – had drained the big shot to win the game for Kentucky, 74-73 over Wisconsin. It was the same way he hit the big shot for Kentucky to win in the last game, as well as the game before that, too.
The Wildcats were headed to Monday's national title game against Connecticut as the first team in NCAA tournament history to win four consecutive games by five points or less. Their "breather" was a seven-point win in their tourney opener.
The Big Blue side of AT&T Stadium was some kind of mix of emotional exhaustion, extended disbelief and the non-parallel joy of continuing to win what seemed lost.
The Cardiac 'Cats are doing a number on the Commonwealth, a ride of a lifetime; this youthful, erratic, improbable, outrageous, infuriating, brilliant mix of a title game drive, all capped by a freshman guard with oversized, ah, onions.
"He's got the biggest [onions] I've seen," forward Alex Poythress said with a laugh. "The biggest [onions]. He's got some hanging right now."
Yes, these are the Kentucky Wildcats, somewhere between stone-cold, late-game killer and frat-house clown-show humor, which is why Calipari was standing on the court postgame, saw his daughter Megan in the stands amid the pandemonium and started clutching his chest in mock heart attack mode.
These guys are either winning the national title or killing someone while trying – maybe their coach, maybe their fans, maybe their own parents. "I don't know if I can handle another," Harrison's dad, Aaron Sr., said after watching his son do it again. "This is what he does [though]."
Even Calipari, the coach who's mastered maximizing immature basketball genius, isn't always sure what's coming next. Thirty-nine games into the wildest season of his career and he has both the utmost confidence in, and the complete bafflement at, the same group of players.
Consider the start of the second half here, when Calipari was adamant his kids match the intensity and effort of the Badgers. Instead Wisconsin's opening possession featured two offensive rebounds, a lackluster UK defensive rotation and a drained wide-open 3-pointer. So 59 seconds into the half, Cal called an unusually timed timeout so he could yell at them.
"Basically, they didn't listen to me at halftime," said Calipari, who'll be coaching for his second title in three seasons Monday night. "I just said, 'Was anybody even paying attention to anything I said at halftime?' "
They listened this time and responded with a 15-0 run, threatening to blow open the game. Then they watched Wisconsin go on a 10-2 spurt to tie it. And it was back to the timeout huddle for more Calipari coaching.
"We're not real good up 10," Calipari joked.
Yet, you get the same players to the end of the game, the final high-pressure moments when heroes and goats are made and suddenly everything changes.
Everyone goes all out. Smart passes are made. Effort is self-generated. Guys who struggled all game begin making huge plays, grabbing monster rebounds or, if nothing else, passing it to Aaron Harrison, who, even with the clock grinding down and stuck deep in NBA 3-point land doesn't hesitate to rise, fire and win again.
"I just like winning," Aaron Harrison said.
It's that simple?
"Guys that make game-winners are not afraid to miss them," Calipari said.
[Related: Celebration gone wrong for the Wildcats?]
Normally assassins, or a team full of players who embrace the grandest of moments, don't need a steady stream of aggressive coaching, but then there's never really been a team like this before.
Saturday they became just the second team to start five freshmen in the Final Four (Michigan 1992). They then played two more rookies. Those seven scored all but eight of UK's points.
"We played seven freshman, folks," Calipari said. "We played seven freshman. They're all performing under those lights, which is an amazing story."
Indeed, it is, although about six of those seven will be playing in the NBA next season, so that's worth pointing out. Talent can get you a long way, but it doesn't explain this. It doesn't explain how the guys get mentally tougher when the even mature college players tend to shrink.
Aaron Harrison was 2 of 7 from the floor when he took the game-winner without an ounce of hesitation or doubt.
"Late in the game, they have an unbelievable will to win," Calipari said.
Calipari claims it comes from the negative criticism the team received during the season, when the preseason No. 1 club that some predicted could go 40-0 actually lost 10 games. That doesn't seem reasonable, though. It sounds more like a coaching tactic that he wants his bluechips playing like doubted underdogs.
Negative fan and media comments might motivate players through practices or even pregame, but in the furious plays when tournament games are decided, it isn't going to do too much.
These guys are just freshmen, capable of monster swings of performance and personality. Calipari coaches them like almost no other coach even thinks of doing it. He calls no timeouts at the end of the game, preferring they play on instinct and past training. He keeps publicly predicting a player will have a monster game, putting them in the pressurized spotlight.
"James Young has had 25-point games," Cal said of his skilled freshman forward. "I'll make a prediction he'll have  in this Monday night game." Calipari looked down the postgame dais at Young, who was smiling as his coach predicted his greatness.
"You listening to me?" Calipari asked.
Who the heck does that? Well, Calipari does. The more he says he believes in them, they seem to believe in themselves. Or something like that.
Whatever. When a 10-loss team wins games by 7, 2, 5, 3 and 1 points to advance to play for the national title; when the same guy hits game-winners in the Sweet 16, Elite Eight and now Final Four, each one from farther and farther and farther out; when a fan base that likes to think it has seen everything in the middle of a wondrous stress test that the game has never, ever seen before, you don't change a dang thing.
"Coach said he wanted me to take the shot," Aaron Harrison said.
He did. He does. He's only faking that heart attack.
At least so far.
- Sports & Recreation
- John Calipari
- Aaron Harrison