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Final Four week notes: Cats hearing, but not feeding into UK-U of L hype

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Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 24 points and 19 rebounds in UK's win over Louisville on New Year's Eve. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 24 points and 19 rebounds in UK's win over Louisville on New Year's Eve. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Doron Lamb has seen it firsthand. Everywhere he goes, whether it's a walk to class, a meal or a simple trip across the street to the Joe Craft Center, the message from fans is the same.

Beat Louisville.

"We're walking on campus and people are talking to you, stopping you to take pictures and sign autographs everywhere you go," Lamb said. "Me and Marquis (Teague) went out to eat last night and we couldn't eat our food really. We had to leave the restaurant. Some lady tapped me in the back while I had a piece of chicken in my mouth."

Lamb has been a celebrity on campus since he arrived at Kentucky back in the summer before his freshman season, but things have been kicked up a notch this week. Since UK and U of L won Elite Eight games this weekend, excitement for the first ever Final Four edition of the "Dream Game" has been utterly inescapable.

John Calipari has heard the buzz too - though he didn't claim to have been accosted while consuming poultry - and he understands. He knows how the rivalry that already simmered throughout the Bluegrass State is being heated to a boil by this unprecedented showdown in New Orleans.

He's not letting his Wildcats see it that way though, and he doesn't imagine the Cardinals will either.

"Whether you win or lose, it does not matter if the school's 10 minutes from you or a thousand miles," Calipari said. "It really doesn't matter now. For our fans, Louisville fans, Kentucky fans, oh my gosh. But the teams, they want to win the game because they want to advance."

Fortunately for Coach Cal, he won't have a hard time convincing his team. Through rivalry games, whiteouts, blackouts and now four games of the NCAA Tournament, the Cats have employed one approach: treat every game the same Given that it's worked 36 times in 38 tries, it makes sense that they don't play on changing now.

"That's our choice," Lamb said. "We took every game this season like that really. We didn't worry about who we played the next day and how big the game's going to be. We just worry about who we're going to play next and try to knock that game out."

If anybody was going to buy into the UK-U of L hype on this Kentucky team, it would be Darius Miller. Not only has he played in three regular-season installments of the series, but he's a native of Maysville, Ky., where he gained an appreciation for what the rivalry means. The senior, though, sees the game as nothing more than a means to an end.

"Our main goal is winning the national championship, not to beat Louisville," Miller said.

Miller's sentiment is echoed by all his teammates, but that won't stop more articles from being written about the implications of the game than can possibly be read in the four days before it finally tips off, though fans on both sides of the aisle will likely try. If the comments of Calipari and his players on Tuesday are any indication, none of those stories figure to include any incendiary quotes from the Cats, but the conversations in schools, workplaces and houses divided figure to go differently.

"I'm not (going to feed into the rivalry), our fans maybe. Our fans feed everything," Calipari said affectionately.

On an only semi-related - but fully entertaining - note, Calipari has some words for advice about UK fans for anyone writing about UK-U of L this week.

"They are piranha," Calipari said. "If you have an agenda and you write a story that's agenda-driven, they will take out everything you've written and prove it wrong then look at your background and go over what you've done. So if you're going to attack Kentucky, just be right. If you have an agenda for another coach, to do it for another coach to create something, I'm just telling you, piranha (imitates piranhas vocally and with hand motions), they'll come and eat your yard, your house."

Cats still reaping benefits of visit by NBA's Thunder

With the NBA and its Players Association at a standstill in negotiating a new Collective Bargaining Agreement last fall, the Oklahoma City Thunder were left without coaches or a gym to call home. Taking Calipari up on his open invitation, former UK star Nazr Mohammed brought the team to the Joe Craft Center.

While in Lexington, the Thunder impressed Calipari with their work ethic.

"I saw a team of NBA players with no guidance except within their team spending four days on a college campus together every one of them, including the star (Kevin Durant) who wouldn't leave campus and worked out three times a day," Calipari said.

Having coached in the NBA, Calipari already knew the kind of time it takes to excel at basketball's highest level, but it was an eye-opening experience for his team and possibly a building block for this Final Four run.

"What it showed our team was you want to be a professional someday, that's how you work," Calipari said. "I think the guys were taken aback, 'Three times a day?' Yeah, they go work out, in the morning, lift, in the afternoon work out and they play in the evening. 'What?' That's what they do and that's why the Thunder are who they are."

Following a season in which the Wildcats formed a "breakfast club" en route to a perfect sprint through the Southeastern Conference regular season, it's safe to say the Thunder's approach rubbed off.

Not only did the UK players get to watch the Thunder up close, they also got to try their hand at taking them on in various pickup games. At first, the Cats were outclassed as they tried to take Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and the rest of the team with the NBA's second-best record on one-on-one. Eventually, they learned to compete as a team and find a way to hold their own.

"They tried to come out and kill us really," Lamb said. "They weren't taking it easy on us, especially Kevin Durant. Every time he got the ball he tried to shoot it. He was talking junk. I'm friends with Kevin Durant so I know he's a great player. We learned a lot from them really. They taught us a lot. They taught us how to play together."

Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist set the tone with unselfishness

Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have been billed all season as among the nation's top players. Midway through the year, the two talented freshmen were viewed as equally strong candidates for national player of the year honors, only for Davis to block his way to frontrunner status.

For all their brilliance, Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist are just fourth and fifth respectively in field-goal attempts on their team. On the face of things, that seems a woefully ineffective way to distribute shots, but UK's 36-2 record and top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament screams otherwise.

Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist have been universally lauded for consistency in both their game and their approach, but Coach Cal sees their selflessness as even more important to the team's success.

"They take the fourth- and fifth-most shots on our team," Calipari said. "That's a bigger deal. Which means they're worried about winning, which means it's hard for anybody else to be selfish when those two are not. If you are, probably someone on this team will say something and I don't have to say it."

The trickle-down effect of Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist's willingness to defer has been evident in everything about these Wildcats, and the statistics prove it.

Six different UK players score in double figures and each one averages between 7.6 and 9.4 shots per game. Moreover, all seven of UK's top contributors, save for one, attempts between 18.7 percent and 22.9 of the team's shots when on the floor. The lone exception? Kyle Wiltjer, who plays just 11.9 minutes per game, yet attempts a team-high 24.8 percent of UK's shots when he is on the floor.

Davis's knee 'fine'

It didn't take long on Tuesday for Calipari to be asked about the status of Davis after a knee injury he suffered on Sunday against Baylor. The 6-foot-10 freshman collided with Perry Jones III on his way to the basket and he went to the ground clutching his left knee.

Davis would return to the game a minute later and block four shots over the game's final 17 minutes. In postgame interviews, he said he simply "bumped knees" with Jones, though replays appeared to show it was a knee-to-hip collision.

Regardless of how the injury happened, Calipari reported on Tuesday that it had been confirmed Davis has only a bruised knee, saying, "He's fine."

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