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Published September 12, 2015
Andrew Harrison knew extra practice time would eventually translate into positive game results.
The payoff came Saturday against Tennessee and Kentucky's freshman point guard looks to keep the momentum going Tuesday night against Texas A&M — and the rest of the season.
Harrison scored a career-high 26 points in a 74-66 victory over the Volunteers, including 16 in the second half to help the No.14 Wildcats (13-4, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) put Tennessee away. He was perfect 10 of 10 from the foul line and Kentucky made 23 of 24 free throws as a team.
But more notable for Harrison was how he got to the free throw line against Tennessee's physical lineup.
Drawing contact is a sign of Harrison's increased confidence and comfort with his role as Kentucky's floor leader and will be important in preventing the Aggies (12-5, 3-1) from earning their second straight win at Rupp Arena.
"I know that I'm not playing as well as I can, and that's what I'm working on," Harrison said after the game. "That just comes from hard work and being in the gym. I just want to play well for my team."
What's helping is Harrison's improved patience watching the game develop before making his move.
At times the 6-foot-6 Harrison has appeared to try too hard to live up to billing as the nation's top recruit at his position — and meeting Kentucky coach John Calipari's expectations for his point guards. Missing both exhibition games with a bruised knee didn't help.
Harrison showed flashes of his ability early but his play was inconsistent, leading to social-media criticism of his ability. Some of the conversations bothered him but all of it motivated him to improve.
"It's frustrating when you hear people say you're not as good as you think you are," Harrison said. "Some of the plays I made, a point guard is not supposed to let that happen, and I felt responsible for that."
And while Harrison's development continues, he has shown progress in the last five games. Despite scoring just seven points in last Tuesday's overtime loss at Arkansas, he had six assists and forced the extra session by making a 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left in regulation.
He also scored 18 points against rival Louisville on Dec. 28.
Against the Vols, Harrison took control in the second half. He made 4 of 7 shots from the field and all eight attempts from the line. Calipari credited weeks of Harrison working on the pick-and-roll and attacking the post man; assistant coach John Robic followed up Monday by praising Harrison's decision-making.
"I thought Andrew had a terrific game because he carried over the things that we've been working on in practice, not because of his stats and his line," Robic said. "That was obvious. When your point guard does that, it helps everybody for sure."
Harrison enters Tuesday's game against Texas A&M as Kentucky's fourth-leading scorer at 11.5 points per contest, hitting nearly 39 percent from 3-point range and averaging 3.5 assists per contest.
He believes there's room for improvement, especially when it comes to finishing through contact. But Harrison is encouraged because the extra gym time has helped him become more at ease.
The result was a breakout performance Kentucky teammates expected of him, one they expect to become more common.
"It was going to come sooner or later," Wildcats shooting guard and Harrison's twin brother Aaron, said. "He was maybe thinking too much. He just went out there and played and did his thing, basically."
Added James Young, "he's starting to lead us a lot more, and that's helping our team. He's coming off screens harder, and that opens up a lot for our offense."