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November 17, 2013

Harrison bounces back as Cats rout Robert Morris

Aaron Harrison had plenty on his plate.

The Kentucky guard still was getting over a poor performance in a loss last Tuesday to Michigan State. He had Sunday's game against Robert Morris to prepare for. And in the interim, coach John Calipari was lecturing him on the importance of good body language.

"It's really about having good body language in adversity, so I just really need to work on that," Harrison said after the Wildcats routed Robert Morris 87-49 Sunday night at Rupp Arena. "Not just in basketball, but just being a man."

On Sunday, he was the man.

And there wasn't much adversity to overcome.

Harrison scored 28 points to pace Kentucky (3-1) to a win against the Colonials (2-2), making 7 of 12 shots, 4 of 7 three-pointers and all 10 of his free-throw attempts. He added four rebounds, three assists, two steals and a blocked shot in by far the best of his four games as a freshman.

"It was a good feeling, just to get out of my little funk that I had (against Michigan State) on Tuesday and just get my confidence up," Harrison said.

That funk against the Spartans included a three-point, 1-for-7 shooting performance during which Harrison hardly hid his frustration. He put his hands on his head in disbelief after foul calls. He cried coming off the court.

"I was frustrated with myself," Harrison said Sunday. "I really wanted to do well. I just really wanted to win. Things happened, so I was a little frustrated."

It showed, and that's long been a knock on Harrison, and twin brother Andrew. Throughout high school and AAU, they were knocked for bad body language, for appearing to pout when things weren't going their way.

Calipari has addressed it with some frequency, stressing to Aaron Harrison to do a better job at staying positive.

"I think I did a better job of it today," Harrison said.

But there wasn't much reason to be down.

In a rematch of the Wildcats' first-round NIT loss last season, Kentucky trailed Robert Morris 1-0, but led the rest of the way. Starting five freshmen who'd seen last season's game only on TV if at all, the Cats scored the game's next 10 points and led 17-2 before the Colonials made their first field goal at the 11:34 mark of the first half.

Aaron Harrison played a big part in the fast start. He sank his first three three-pointers and had 19 points by halftime, already his season high.

"So today, like I said to Aaron after, you can't be energized because you made shots," Calipari said. "You got to be energized because you're playing basketball, and if you happen to miss shots, OK. James Young is the same way. He misses shots, he goes in the tank. You can't be that way."

Aaron Harrison admits he's been that way for much of his basketball career. In that sense, the Michigan State game was an eye-opener, he said, as he "learned individually that even when my shots aren't falling, I just have to keep playing, figure out a way to help my team win."

He gave it a big assist on Sunday, though he wasn't alone.

Julius Randle finished with 10 points and 15 rebounds, his fourth double-double in as many games. Young scored 10 points, though he shot 4 for 11. Andrew Harrison -- who's "not there yet," Calipari said, as Kentucky's point guard -- played a solid defensive game with eight rebounds and a steal.

But it was Aaron Harrison who did most of the offensive damage, and while he was happy to sink a few shots, he was more pleased to bury the bad mojo he'd been feeling against Michigan State.

"It was a big game and we all talked about the game -- it was a huge game, of course -- so we all were disappointed," he said. "I was definitely disappointed in myself. I knew I could have done a lot more to help my team win, but we're past it now. We all came back together as a team and we're just moving forward."

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