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Ashley Scoby: Harrison’s offense, Towns’ defense seals No. 1 UK’s 22nd straight win

Guard Andrew Harrison led UK with 23 points and seven assists in a win over Georgia that ran the Wildcats' winning streak to 22 in a row (UK Athletics Photo)

Guard Andrew Harrison led UK with 23 points and seven assists in a win over Georgia that ran the Wildcats’ winning streak to 22 in a row (UK Athletics Photo)


With 41 seconds on the clock, and Kentucky holding a 67-58 lead against a feisty Georgia team Tuesday night, Andrew Harrison took a deep breath. He swished his first free throw in a one-and-one situation, swung his arms out to his side and exhaled. And he made another free throw.

Ten seconds later, Karl-Anthony Towns blocked Charles Mann’s shot, and snatched the rebound, sealing a 69-58 Kentucky win.

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Those two weapons – Harrison’s cool offensive stroke and Towns’ ferocious rebounding – were what made Kentucky tick, and what allowed the Wildcats to at one point amass an 18-point lead over the Bulldogs.

Harrison finished with a season-high 23 points off 8-16 shooting (3-6 from behind the arc), seven assists and only one turnover. And Towns snatched 13 of Kentucky’s 24 total rebounds.

For Harrison, especially, it was a sweet moment after his five-point, two-assist performance against Alabama. His father has been in Lexington this week, helping him with his shooting stroke. For someone who has heard plenty of fan anger directed at him because of poor performances, a 23-point outburst was just what Harrison needed.

“I can’t really worry about what people think about me or say about me anymore,” he said. “I’ve heard it all. That doesn’t really affect me anymore. I just want to play well for my team.”

He started early: During an 11-1 Kentucky run to start the game, Harrison buried a jumper 20 seconds into the game, assisted on a Towns basket and made another jump shot, all within two minutes.

More of the same from Harrison (5-9 shooting for 12 points and five assists in the first half) helped the Wildcats put together a 15-point halftime lead.

And with Kentucky’s two shooting guards – Devin Booker and Aaron Harrison – combining for a 1-of-10 shooting performance, Andrew Harrison’s productivity was that much sweeter.

“If they throw it to you, attack, make plays, and make plays for your teammates,” head coach John Calipari said of his near-constant advice to Harrison.

By the break, Towns also had six rebounds and 11 points, displaying the kind of aggressiveness that Calipari wants to see from him.

“The biggest key was you had Karl Towns who just absolutely was a beast in there,” Calipari said. “I mean, he was really good.”

With fellow post players Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee combining for nine points and seven rebounds for the game, Towns’ performance was a necessity against a Georgia team that ripped the ball away from Kentucky time after time.

It was even more important in the second half when Georgia made its run. The Bulldogs had out-rebounded Kentucky 18-11 in the first half, before finishing the game with a 36-24 advantage on the boards.

The Wildcats weathered that storm early, and had jumped out to an 18-point lead with 18:26 left to play, before the Bulldogs started chipping away. By the 14:32 mark, Georgia had put together an 11-3 run, led by JJ Frazier’s two three-pointers and three points from Nemanja Djurisic, who finished with a team-high 17.

In that 11-3 run, Georgia pulled down eight rebounds, including four offensive boards.

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“I think we’ve got a pretty scrappy team,” said Georgia head coach Mark Fox. “They do have great size and they have a terrific defensive team. They have great length and we felt like rebounding the ball would be important tonight.”

The Bulldogs got to within six points at the 4:09 mark after Djurisic converted an and-one opportunity. And the margin dropped to five with 2:06 remaining after he made another strong move inside for a layup, making Kentucky’s lead a not-so-imposing 63-58.

From that moment, the Wildcats closed the game on a 6-0 run, culminating with Harrison’s calm and collected free throws to close out his big night.

“They have such a balanced team,” Fox said of Kentucky. “I think Kentucky’s players can’t be expected to have huge nights every night because they’re spreading it around so much. Tonight was his (Harrison’s) turn. He took advantage of it.”

Ashley Scoby is a senior journalism major at the University of Kentucky and a KyForward sports writer. She has reported on the Wildcats for wildcathoops.com, vaughtsviews.com and kysportsreport.com as well as for newspapers in Danville and Glasgow. She will begin a summer internship with Sports Illustrated magazine in New York this June.

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