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Cats never believed they were dead, just needed reminder from the grave

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The Wildcats celebrate their third Final Four berth in fourth seasons. (Chet White, UK Athletics) The Wildcats celebrate their third Final Four berth in fourth seasons. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The words out of Andrew Harrison's mouth told one story.

Asked if he believed they would be in this position, just a day away from traveling to Dallas for the Final Four, Andrew Harrison said, "Yeah, of course. Never a doubt."

The smile told a different one.

To believe Kentucky would be in this spot even three weeks ago when UK was treading water and reeling from three losses in four games, one would have to either be a crazy person or John Calipari.

The latter, of course, said he never gave up, never stopped believing. He warned a while back that his team may not "click" this year, but that didn't stop him from hoping and trusting it would.

He said Tuesday, two days since the latest example that no one is truly dead until there are no games left on the schedule, that he never wondered if his team would ever "get it," so to speak.

"I don't think that way," Calipari said. "It's just like when I'm coaching a basketball game. I never think we're going to lose until the horn goes off and say, 'Man, we needed more time. We lost that one.' The losing never comes in my mind.

"I never give up on a player.  I never give up on a team. I just think it's going to take longer. There are times that I get more aggressive. There are times I get more impatient, but I never stop believing."

Coach Cal said he'll do whatever he has to do try to make this thing work.

This season it took the well-known "tweaks," which Calipari said on his radio show Monday night included one more for this weekend. Last season he went as far as to play dodge ball to change the mentality of the team after the injury to Nerlens Noel.

But to get this year's players to believe they were going to get better, Calipari joked on Tuesday that he had to go to drastic lengths get them to buy in.

"You all counted us off," he said. "I had to be wheeled in, in there (practice gym) in a casket, and I opened it and said, 'We ain't dead yet, boys!' for my guys to believe."

A casket? Really?

"Absolutely," said the injured Willie Cauley-Stein, who was hobbling by on crutches and a boot on his way to the locker room.

OK, so the casket thing really didn't happen, but the players confirmed that Coach Cal did entertain the idea.

"He said he was going to," Aaron Harrison said. "He said he couldn't get a casket, but I think that was fun."

Said Marcus Lee: "When he told us that, we all started dying laughing. It was probably the funniest thing that's happened this year."

Between that and the DVDs of old game tape Calipari shredded in front of the players, Calipari stopped at nothing to get the Cats to understand that the past was the past and their goals were still in front of them.

That notion seemed hard to believe after the loss at home to Arkansas, in the aftermath of the embarrassing loss at South Carolina or on the plane ride home from the beating at Florida, but Calipari has always said that one of his main goals throughout the regular season is to put his team in a position to be in the hunt at the end of the year when it matters most.

Here they are, two wins away from a national championship, as implausible as that once seemed.

"We were never dead, honestly," Lee said. "To everybody else we were dead, and now it's just in their brains. So I guess that's what he was trying to come out and say (with the casket thing)."

Obviously it worked.

"We definitely got it," Andrew Harrison said. "A lot of people didn't think we would be here, let alone Sweet 16 or anything like that. It's fun proving people wrong."

Even themselves.

"We just had to figure things out," Aaron Harrison said. "I don't think it's about destiny. Yeah, we're definitely a blessed team, but I think we worked hard to do what we've done."

To bring you more expansive coverage, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be joining forces for the postseason. You can read the same great stories you are accustomed to from both sites at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog, but now you'll enjoy even more coverage than normal.

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