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Disappointing end doesn't cast disappointing shadow over season

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kentucky.wake_01.jpgSYRACUSE, N.Y. - This was the ultimate what could have been. Everything about the season spelled national championship.

With one abysmal shooting night, the rags to riches storybook season fell short of the grand prize.

"It's extremely hard," Patterson said. "Our main focus was a national championship. We truly believed we could accomplish that goal. We had the players, we had the coaches, we had the team to get it done. Unfortunately we fell short to a team that outplayed us."

Kentucky lost Saturday night at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, falling 73-66 to No. 2 seed West Virginia. That Cats were done in by the very same things UK head coach John Calipari prophesized could end their season. West Virginia was lights out from three-point range, hitting 10-of-23 long-range shots, and for a brief period, UK lost its cool.

"I don't want to have excuses," Calipari said. "They outplayed us. But I think there were times that the inexperience hurt us."

Kentucky was also done in by the two things Calipari said wouldn't determine the Cats' season: three-point and free-throw shooting. UK was dreadful with both against West Virginia, hitting only 4-of-32 shots from behind the arc and 16-of-29 from the charity stripe.

The consequences of defeat mean the longest Final Four drought in school history will continue.

But that overwhelming miss paled in comparison to the disappointment the players and the coaches suffered through as they sat for 30 agonizing minutes while they tried to recover, reflect and answer questions all at once. Little could disguise the pain in their hearts.

It was almost unbearable to watch.

Senior Ramon Harris bent over, head in hands, in the middle of the locker room. Sophomore Darius Miller fought back tears. Eric Bledsoe had trouble just getting a word out.

It was an excruciatingly bitter end to a season filled with promise, hope and revival.

"I really wish we could have just won a national championship and dedicated this season to those who had such a rough first four seasons, two or three seasons -- Patrick, (Mark) Krebs, Perry (Stevenson) and Ramon," freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins said. "The seniors, they'll never get another chance to put on a college jersey. I just wish we could have ended their careers on a good note."

Wall tried to do his best to search for answers to the loss. As dignified and as prideful as he tried to stand, the wounds stung deep for a player that bravely shouldered the responsibilities of the program's savior.

"I took it hard," said Wall, who finished with 19 points, nine rebounds and five assists. "I took it real hard. I was crying in the locker room and they had to pick me up. As a leader, you have certain goals you set for the team. I was trying to lead them all the way there. We fell short."

The season fell short of the ultimate goal and the disappointment poured solemnly over the team, but it shouldn't cast a shadow of disappointment over what was still a wildly successful season.

"We were pretty successful this year," said Cousins, who scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds in perhaps his final game in a Kentucky uniform. "We just didn't reach our main goal of a national championship."

But they reestablished Kentucky basketball, both in the state and across the country. Before the super freshmen signed with UK and before Patterson decided to come back, the program had largely fallen off the map.

The national perception following the dismissal of former coach Billy Gillispie was that the UK program was in shambles. The national analysts said Kentucky didn't mean what it used to mean to recruits. The facilities were great, they said, but nothing better than a dozen other schools around the country.

What made it so special now, they asked. To the majority of the nation, the premier basketball program in the country had become a "has been."

Although UK couldn't stamp the final seal of approval on a remarkable rebuilding project, one that few could have expected to happen so fast, it was still a raging success.

The players, although their faces didn't show it after the game, can take satisfaction in the fact that they have put the Kentucky label back on the map. UK is once again relevant.

"I take a whole lot (of satisfaction)," Wall said. "We finished 35-3. That's a record that some people don't have on their record. We wish it could have went longer and we could have won more games, but we did a great job this year of coming together as one team. This is our first year with all these guys and the coaching staff. It means a lot that we came this far, but we wish it would have went further."

The hardest part to swallow for the players is that even if they win a national championship next season, it will be difficult to match this year because of the bond and the obstacles the team had to overcome.

"We all cared," Cousins said. "Blood, sweat and tears this whole season. We put our hearts into this."

It hurt because no matter how long the decisions delay, the likelihood of Patterson, Wall, Cousins and Bledsoe all returning is smaller than Saturday's basket looked for the Cats. No team, no season, will ever be quite like Calipari's honeymoon with the program.

"This is the last time that we will all be together," Bledsoe solemnly admitted.

Like the great Kentucky teams of the past, this one will hold a special place in the hearts of UK fans, even without a championship.

"We had a terrific team and everybody came together to win," Bledsoe said. "I have never seen a team like that so determined to be equals and come together as one."

Time is just about the only thing that will heal the heartache that Saturday's loss brought, and that might not even be the remedy. The bitter end will stick with the UK players, coaches and fans for a long time.

But no matter how hard and how painful it is to look back, no one should consider this season a disappointment. Look back and remember the smile of John Wall, the dedication of Patrick Patterson and the honorability of the seniors. Think back and laugh at the maturity of DeMarcus Cousins, the blossoming of Eric Bledsoe and the heart of Mark Krebs.

"I'm proud of my team," Calipari said. "They fought, they just kept trying. I'm proud of what they've done all season."

This season was special in every sense of the word. Disappointment will not cloud it for very long.

"I loved it," Cousins said. "I just wish it didn't end like this."

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16 Comments

Tough loss.

It hurts to lose, especially for all of you special, special young men. Thanks for an exciting, fun-to-watch season. I wish (in my heart of hearts) that you all would be back next season, but I wish you Godspeed and hope your future is as bright as can be. I love my Wildcats!!!!!

Heads up gentlemen... this was a truly special season; you made Kentucky Basketball FUN again. I've never been the athletic type, but when you soar for a basket or drive the lane, I'm right there with you. John, every time you ran down the court with a grin spread across your face, I was grinning just as wide. Demarcus, I'm so proud of the growth we've witnessed in you as a young man - there were many times when you had every right to be upset and lash out, but you learned self-control for the good of the team. And Patrick, it's difficult to express how much I admire your class and leadership - a true joy to watch. Coach Calipari, congratulations on taking what could have been a collection of individual egos and guiding them toward working as a true team. Thank you all, and the entire team, for giving the BIG BLUE NATION something to cheer for again.

Awesome season.
Thanks to all the Cats for the memories.
You will be remembered.

I am a die-hard fan of Kentucky. I am just a bit disappointed with this season. I know it was an awesome winning season - 35-3, but the thing that has killed me all season long has been that Kentucky has played mostly just as good as the teams they were playing against. With the players we have, there was just so much more potential. This season has definately got me bleeding blue again and brought that spirit back that I lost years ago. Hopefully next season will be just as good if not better than this season.

The flag of Big Blue Nation flys proudly over our home in Colorado.
It was wonderful to watch you all develop and grow not only as a great team, but as young men.GREAT EFFORT! Coach Cal, what does one say? The blue is brighter in The Big Blue World because of you and your team of coaches.
May all your futures continue to shine. Looking forward to next season.

Regardless.. win or loose. u guys did wonderful this yr BOWLING GREEN KY LOVES OUR CATS! yall are #1 in my eyes no matter what!! LOVE U GUYS! GREAT JOB!

My heart is broken that it ended before you guys got what you deserved, the championship. However, you had a great year and I enjoyed every second of it. I am happy to say to say that I even got my 12 year old daughter to watch games with me this year and we had alot of fun together doing so. She claims that it is all because of
Demarcus!!!! Any how, great year and best of luck to all of you fine young men. You're number one to us!!!!!!! Do us all a favor and come back next year!!!!!!

You have brought the love of Kentucky basketball back to this fan and my 7 tyear old daughter. We now have a stuffed animal wildcat in my house named DeMarcus. I know the future is bright for you and for Wildcat basketball.

I agree %100 with everyone, even though you had a hard game, your season was AMAZING! One bad day doesn't distroy the other 32 that you won! Everyone needs to keep their heads up and be proud that this wonderful team has brought the love back to us! These new freshman came in and I thought this was going to be a mess, but when i see wall run down the court my stomach gets high and i get an amazing feeling. They are all fine young men and I couldn't say any more about them, just that we all would LOVE to see you back next year and you are all amazing! MUCH LOVE!

Excellent season! We are back, finally. I can't wait till next season. Sure a championship would have been great but after the last few years being number 1 again and not only getting to the tournament but advancing to the elite 8 is more than I could have hoped for in Coach Cal's first year. Go Cats!

Great season , it was a very exciting year. I am on the west coast & this is the first time in years that we have had so many televised games. The great season could not have happened without everyone coming together. I hope you all come back next season & win us a championship, if not good luck in your future endeavors. Cant wait to get started next season.
Go Cats

I know the "big" five are certain to leave, but the NBA might want to think about a 19 yr old kid who can't hit the three or shoot a free throw!

Hey guys, Thank you Thank you Thank you for a great season I hoped you all would win the NCAA but you really made a Kentucky girl proud!!! Hey boys best of luck in the Pros you know who you are I've haven't watched Pro ball sence Barkley but I will now. Love and prayers Drenda

Ken, Hey buddy give them a break they were great for a bunch of freshman I just wished they were coming back the pros are very lucky Drenda

hey coach cal thanks for a extremely successful season. UK basketball is back where it deserves to be, back in the national spotlight. We have had some down years in the past, but we are finally back. Go big blue, look forward to many more top recruiting classes and another national championship.

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  • christopher casey: hey coach cal thanks for a extremely successful season. UK basketball is back where it deserves to be, back in read more
  • Drenda: Ken, Hey buddy give them a break they were great for a bunch of freshman I just wished they read more
  • Drenda: Hey guys, Thank you Thank you Thank you for a great season I hoped you all would win the read more
  • Ken: I know the "big" five are certain to leave, but the NBA might want to think about a 19 yr read more
  • Tom : Great season , it was a very exciting year. I am on the west coast & this is the first read more
  • randy: Excellent season! We are back, finally. I can't wait till next season. Sure a championship would have been great but read more
  • jessie: I agree %100 with everyone, even though you had a hard game, your season was AMAZING! One bad day doesn't read more
  • Jennifer: You have brought the love of Kentucky basketball back to this fan and my 7 tyear old daughter. We now read more
  • Craig Robbins: My heart is broken that it ended before you guys got what you deserved, the championship. However, you had a read more
  • Kelly Grimes: Regardless.. win or loose. u guys did wonderful this yr BOWLING GREEN KY LOVES OUR CATS! yall are #1 in read more