For most of Saturday afternoon's game, the fans in Rupp Arena couldn't help but think their Wildcats would find a way. It was a reasonable opinion, as they had 55 games and more than three years of evidence to back it up.
As the minutes ticked away and visiting Baylor maintained a lead, the UK faithful and the team they were supporting battled. But in the end, the Bears held on for a 64-55 victory to end the nation's longest home winning streak.
Even though Willie Cauley-Stein had been a part of just three games of the streak, his emotions matched those of the 24,192 fans who streamed to the exits as soon it was over.
"I feel pretty shook up," Cauley-Stein said. "It's a lot to handle, I guess."
That's exactly what John Calipari wants his team feeling after losing for the second time in three days. Falling to 4-3 delivers a message that Coach Cal has been trying to send from the first day of practice, one he took the opportunity to reinforce in the postgame locker room.
"I told them after, we are not a very good team and we don't have very good players right now," Calipari said. "Each individual player, you think about how you played, you're not very good right now."
It may have taken longer than Calipari wanted, but that message has finally sunk in. For all the talk about not comparing this year's team to the one that cut down the nets in New Orleans eight months ago, there was a tiny voice in the players' heads telling them the opposite. That voice is now silent.
"Personally, I think we needed this because coming in here, we have probably the best fan base supporting all of our wins and the national championship," Cauley-Stein said. "I feel like we came in here thinking that we were that team, but we're not that team."
That doesn't mean it's time for doom and gloom. It's hardly an insult to say the 2012-13 Cats aren't the 2011-12 bunch, one of the best in recent college basketball history. With that notion now having been accepted, the Cats can go about the business of doing all Coach Cal has ever wanted them to do: Be the best version of themselves.
"I still like my team," said Calipari, repeating one of his favorite refrains. "And I said, we can do what we want with this. We can be special, or we can be what we are right now, sitting in locker rooms after L's."
If the Cats are looking for where to assign blame for this loss, they need not look any further than the way they shot the ball against Baylor's long zone defense. UK shot just 29.6 percent from the field and 4 for 22 (18.2 percent) from 3-point range. Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress combined for 30 points on 11-for-21 shooting, but the rest of the team made just 10 of 50 of its field-goal attempts. The result was a paltry 0.733 points per possession, the lowest of any game during the Calipari era.
"That's just how the cookie crumbles sometimes," Goodwin said. "Everybody has off nights. No one's perfect, no one's going to make every shot and no one's going to do good every game. Everybody's going to have that one game that they're going to be in a slump."
Somehow, the Cats were in it in spite of their struggles from the field, cutting Baylor's to five points or fewer on multiple occasions. In the end, the Cats just couldn't string together enough stops and scores to overcome Baylor's lead.
"The greatest thing, we had a chance to win the game," Calipari said. "But we are still trying to teach them how to finish games, and they don't know."
Closing out games is just one of many areas these Cats will be looking to improve on during an ongoing five-game home stand the "Camp Cal" that will follow final exams in a couple weeks. Calipari and his players may now know their team isn't very good right now, but they are also confident it can be. Calipari has a proven track record of molding his youth-laden teams into contenders by March, but if it happens this year, he's not going to take full credit.
"His team will be better by the end of the year," said Calipari, spelling out what experts will say in the wake of the loss. "Why? Because I've got a magic wand? No. Because the players decide they are going to do this and they are going to get better. Every one of my teams have made that commitment. This team has not right now. I believe they will, but they haven't."
While that process plays itself out, more underwhelming performances and potentially even more losses in Rupp could be in store. Fans showed no signs of wavering in their support of the Cats on Saturday and players hope that continues.
"They basically have no choice," Goodwin said. "They can be as impatient as they want to, but at the same time if they're really for us they'll understand and work with us through the process."