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Aaron Harrison's 3 with 5.7 seconds left gave UK a 74-73 win over Wisconsin in the Final Four on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Aaron Harrison's 3 with 5.7 seconds left gave UK a 74-73 win over Wisconsin in the Final Four on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Aaron and Andrew Harrison had a moment as the clock ticked under 10 seconds.

UK trailing by two, Andrew Harrison passed to his brother. As Andrew Harrison shouted for him to 'Go, go!' a grin came across Aaron Harrison's face.

Having spent all of his 19 years around his identical twin, Andrew Harrison knew exactly what the look meant.

"He was smiling like he knew he was going to make it," Andrew Harrison said.

After a moment's hesitation, Aaron Harrison rose over Wisconsin's Josh Gasser. The Division I-record crowd of 79,444 anxiously watching -- and the blue-clad fans in attendance surely confident given the freshman shooting guard's recent history -- he buried the 3 from NBA range with 5.7 seconds left, propelling UK to a 74-73 victory and a spot in the national championship game.

"I want to be the one to take the shot and I'm not afraid to miss the shot," Aaron Harrison said. "As long as you're not afraid to miss I think you have a good chance of making it."

The same smile that appeared just before his latest clutch display creeping across his face, Aaron Harrison intimated he wasn't quite as confident as his brother thought. Pressed for a number, Aaron Harrison said he was "79 percent" sure the shot would fall.

"I knew I was going to pull up, but I wasn't a hundred percent sure I was going to make it," Aaron Harrison said. "So I'm just blessed to be in that position to take the last shot."

His teammates felt similarly blessed to be able to count on a player like Aaron Harrison, who climbed into the crowd to greet his parents and family of Texas natives moments after the buzzer sounded.

"When he wants to hit the big shot, he takes it," Alex Poythress said. "Somebody has to step up. He's taken that role."

Taken it and run with it.

Against Louisville, Aaron Harrison hit the go-ahead 3 in the final minute against Louisville as the Wildcats spoiled their archrivals' national title defense. Two days later, Aaron Harrison gave UK a 75-72 win over Michigan with a 3 sure to find its way on March Madness highlight reels for years to come.

On Saturday night, Aaron Harrison cemented his status as one of the best late-game shooters in NCAA Tournament history with his only 3-point attempt.

"It's amazing," he said. "It's unreal just growing up loving the tournament just being a part of it and just being a big part of history, really, with this great team and this great run we made to the Final Four."

It was a run that seemed on the verge of ending when Andrew Harrison fouled Traevon Jackson on a 3-point attempt with 16.4 seconds to go. But when the Wisconsin junior's first attempt at the line went awry, Aaron Harrison saw all the opportunity he'd need to take his twin brother off the hook.

"When you're down you have a little doubt in the back of your mind, but once he missed that first free throw I knew we had a good chance of winning the game," Aaron Harrison said.

Jackson made his next two shots and John Calipari opted not to call a timeout. He had already set the play during a break as the officials reviewed the clock before the three free throws.

"When we huddled, I said, 'We're going at Aaron, boys, anybody got a problem with that?' " Calipari said.

Of course, no one did.

Calling Andrew Harrison over after Jackson's miss, Calipari instructed his point guard to look for a layup on the drive or an easy dump-off to Dakari Johnson. If neither was available, Andrew Harrison was to pass to his brother, affectionately dubbed "the assassin" by his coach.

Aaron Harrison well covered and the Cats scrambling, Andrew Harrison dished to Johnson, who quickly gave it back. That's when that whole twin telepathy thing happened.

"I feel like they kind of talked to each other in their mind as that was going on," Marcus Lee said. "So they probably knew what was happening but we were totally lost. So I don't even know how to explain that one."

That was a theme in the immediate aftermath of UK's instant classic.

Randle, still beaming after tallying 16 points and a victory in front of his hometown fans, couldn't even recall the play UK ran to set up Aaron Harrison's shot barely 30 minutes after it happened.

"I can't even remember the name of the play right now because it's so crazy," Randle said. "I just knew Andrew was going to create something and Aaron ended up getting the ball and, I don't know, I can't really think right now."

Lee's memory is even foggier.

"I don't know what I was looking for--I don't even know," said Lee, who was on the bench for the play. "After that shot gets made and that buzzer ends, your brain kind of just shuts down after that big shot. So I can barely tell you what just happened."

Aaron Harrison recalls the specifics of the exchange a bit more clearly, but what really sticks out for him is a feeling he got from his coach and teammates.

"I think because Coach said he wanted me to take the shot and I think that gave me a lot of confidence," Aaron Harrison said. "I know my teammates had confidence in me, so I just fed off that, really."

With Aaron Harrison confident and hitting every big shot, UK is being talked about as a team of destiny as the Cats prepare for a showdown with Connecticut. But Aaron Harrison, the man responsible for so many of the magical moments that have the Cats a victory away from a ninth national title, has little interest in that discussion.

"I don't know about magic," Aaron Harrison said. "I think we all just fight and just don't let the games go. No matter what we know we have a chance to win so we always just try to keep fighting."

It would be unwise at this point to any kind of last-second heroics past Aaron Harrison at this point. And if you're worried about them becoming old hat to him, don't be.

"You're never used to stuff like that," Aaron Harrison said. "It's the best feeling. The feeling gets better and better every game."

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.

Alex Poythress had eight points and seven rebounds in UK's Final Four win over Wisconsin on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Alex Poythress had eight points and seven rebounds in UK's Final Four win over Wisconsin on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
By Annie Dunbar, CoachCal.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Kentucky may start five freshmen but it was a sophomore who sparked the Wildcats late and led UK to the national championship game.

Before UK's Final Four showdown with the Wisconsin Badgers, John Calipari, who is looking more and more like a prophet with each stunning performance, said that Alex Poythress had more to give. He predicted that, like Marcus Lee before him, Poythress was due for a performance everyone would be talking about after Kentucky's Final Four game against Wisconsin.

"Alex is playing great and he's halfway home," Calipari said at his pre-Final Four press conference. "He's in the best shape, he's mentally better, he's helping us win. ... But now, they should be talking about him worldwide, but he's got to let loose."

And let loose, Poythress did.

After battling back from foul trouble and sloppy play, Poythress came up big late in the game two  huge plays. His monstrous dunk with 4:45 to play got UK within two points at 69-67, and his layup, a play in which he soared well above his defender to snag a lob pass from Andrew Harrison, gave the Cats a 71-69 lead, erupted the crowd at AT&T Stadium and set the stage for Aaron Harrison's game-winning shot in the 74-73 victory on Saturday.

"It felt good," Poythress said about battling back. "It got the momentum going. It sparked a little run for us. It got the bench hyped, got everybody into the game a little more."

Poythress finished with eight points -- four of which came in the final five minutes of the game -- and seven rebounds.

"Alex lost himself in the game," Calipari said.

Calipari thinks Poythress' aggressiveness and fierce play came from watching what Lee did in the Louisville game.

"Marcus Lee kind of woke him up," Calipari said. "Like if Marcus Lee can do that, I can do that. Everyone on this team is waiting for him to break out like he did and like he is now. He's in the best shape of his life. Mentally, he's in a great place mentally. He's playing fearless and he's just almost reckless, which is great for him because of his athleticism."

So Calipari predicted Poythress would come through against the Badgers.

"I texted him before because I had a bunch of my friends say he's going to have a big game," Calipari said. "I texted him, 'This is what they're saying, man. I love you.' He said, 'I love you, Coach, let's go have some fun.' And he went out there and played great."

His teammates were all proud of Poythress' performance.

"Unbelievable," Julius Randle said. "Huge. Just happy that he's playing that way. I'm just really proud of him and what he did for our team."

Willie Cauley-Stein, who was forced to watch the game from the bench due to a left ankle injury, thinks the positive vibes from the team and coaches helped fuel Poythress' performance.

"I've been with Alex for almost, a few years now," Cauley-Stein said. "I think that's how you get him going, all the positivity. Being negative with him, anybody when you're being negative to them, they just don't care. They're obviously going to fuel themselves, but you being positive, constantly in his ear like that, that's how you get Alex to play the way he does."

During the game, Poythress had an uplifting moment with assistant coach Kenny Payne, which he credits to the spark he brought the team when it needed him most.
"He said 'Keep on playing, man. We need you, we need you,' " Poythress said. "It's just how he is. He expects the best out of me. He's not going to settle for anything less. That's just the type of relationship me and KP have."

When the buzzer sounded, all of the Wildcats jumped on top of each other and Poythress ended up on the bottom of the dog pile. Poythress limped off the court after the celebration, apparently injured by the postgame pile-up, but Poythress said  he is fine.

"It's heavy," Poythress said of the dog pile. "Everybody is on you. But you're just having fun, being a bunch of kids."

On a team of a bunch of kids, the sophomore helped spark the victory.

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.

UK_UW_mbball_4-5-15_76_cw.JPG

ARLINGTON, Texas - The script has stayed the same through Kentucky's NCAA Tournament run: Hang around in the first half, get it close by halftime, make a second-half run and then pull out a heart-stopping victory.

With a side of Aaron Harrison heroics.

The Wildcats rode that script again Saturday night in the Final Four and right into the national championship game. The Cats, with a thrilling 74-73 victory over Wisconsin, have a date with Connecticut for the national title.

"Another great game," John Calipari said before putting his hand in the air in disbelief.

What else can he say? This run, these games, these finishes - Hollywood couldn't come up with a script like this.

It's left a man of many words speechless.

"We played seven freshmen, folks," Calipari said. "We played seven freshmen. They're all performing in that stage, under those lights, which is an amazing story."

Aaron Harrison provided the climactic, blockbuster moment again, this time with a 3-pointer and UK down by two. With the clock winding down and Kentucky's dream run fading, Aaron Harrison pulled up from long range with Josh Gasser on him - and nailed it with 5.7 seconds left.

"It was a play for Andrew (Harrison) to dribble down and me to catch it in the corner, but it didn't work out that way so he dribbled and passed it to Dakari (Johnson)," Aaron Harrison said. "He had to get it back in there and I just called for the ball. ... I just made some space and knocked it down."

Before that, Wisconsin had taken the lead when Traevon Jackson baited Andrew Harrison into fouling him on a 3-pointer with 16.4 seconds left. Jackson made the final two free throws after missing the first to give Wisconsin a 73-71 lead, but it was only setting  the stage for another iconic moment in a run chock full of them.

After making big 3-pointers against Wichita State, sinking the go-ahead 3 vs. Louisville and then drilling the game-winner against Michigan, teammates say Aaron Harrison was smiling - yes, smiling - just before he took the shot.

"He was smiling like he knew he was going to make it," Andrew Harrison said.

Said Aaron Harrison, who hadn't taken a 3 all game: "I knew I was going to pull up, but I wasn't a hundred percent sure I was going to make it."

Julius Randle never had a doubt it was going to go in. And who could blame him after what's happened during these last few weeks?

"I thought it was good," Randle said of the 24-foot, NBA-range shot. "I have all the faith in the world in him in a situation like that. Just what he did was crazy."

When Jackson missed a jumper inside the 3-point line, the Wildcats (29-10) were headed back to the national title game for the second time in three seasons with youth not seen since Michigan's Fab Five.

 "You can't be scared to miss and you want to be that guy that wants to take the big shot," Aaron Harrison said. "It's just the feeling that I want to be the one to take the shot, and I'm not afraid to miss the shot."

Wisconsin's Sam Dekker suggested after the game that Aaron Harrison has the "clutch gene."

"I just like winning," Aaron Harrison said. "If to hit that shot, if that's what I have to do to win, that's what I have to do. If it was a rebound or something else, I had to do to win a game, that's what I would try to do for my team."

Apparently all these Cats like winning. A number of them came up with clutch plays again even when UK appeared to be at the end of its good fortunes.

“We got a bunch of stars on this team,” Calipari said.

Down nine in the first half, UK did what did it against Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan by rallying late and making it a four-point game at halftime. Randle played a big part in shrinking Wisconsin's lead, scoring six of his first-half nine points in the 3:34 before the break.

“We’re not real good up 10, but for some reason, down 10, they grow hair on their neck,” Calipari said. “And all of a sudden they’re like, ‘Who are these guys?’ ”

But unlike the previous three games, the Cats didn't seize on their late first-half momentum and fell behind seven after Randle was blocked to open the second half and Dekker hit a 3.

Coach Cal knew the game was in the balance and called timeout just 59 seconds into the half.

"I can't tell you (what I said)," Calipari said. "Basically they didn't listen to me at halftime. The first play the guy takes a bad shot and then we leave and give up a 3. I just said, `Was anybody even paying attention to anything I said at halftime?' "

The Cats, as they've done all postseason, responded to their head coach with yet another defining run.

Sparked by defense, strong board work and Dakari Johnson's "and one," UK went on a 15-0 run to take a 51-43 lead. The young ones, they just don't wilt.

"These kids have been resilient," Calipari said.

But Wisconsin would not go away.

The Badgers answered with a 15-4 run of their own, retaking the lead 58-55 with 10:51 to play. From there, well, it was a finish familiar to anyone who has watched UK's previous three games.

The two teams traded punch for punch, dagger for dagger.

When Kentucky looked like it was finally running out of the gas down the stretch, Randle provided an old-fashioned 3-point play, Alex Poythress threw down a ferocious two-hand slam as he was fouled and then followed with a late-game basket on a lob pass from Andrew Harrison to take a 71-69 lead.

“Late in the game, they have an unbelievable will to win,” Calipari said.

Frank Kaminsky - whom UK held in check all night - tied the game at 71 with 1:15 to play.

Andrew Harrison missed a 3-pointer with the game tied at 71 and then fouled Jackson on the ensuing possession, but his twin brother had his back with the game-winning shot. In the postgame locker room, Calipari made Andrew Harrison get up and hug his brother.

"I'm proud," Andrew Harrison said. "He saved me."

With another familiar -- albeit unbelievable -- script, Kentucky has written its way into an improbable opportunity at a national championship on Monday.

It's been a run so unlikely, so hard to believe, that even the Cats don't have perspective on what type of special, unforgettable run they're on.

"No clue," Randle said. "We're just fighting. We believe in what we can do, we believe in our ability and we're just fighting."

They've got one more to go.

"We didn't come down here to get second," Aaron Harrison said.

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.

Patient Wisconsin to test Cats in Final Four

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UK and Wisconsin will face off on Saturday at AT&T Stadium with a spot in the national championship game on the line. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK and Wisconsin will face off on Saturday at AT&T Stadium with a spot in the national championship game on the line. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ARLINGTON, Texas -- All season long John Calipari has poked and prodded, trying to find a way to get his young Kentucky team to sustain energy for complete possessions.

On the eve of the Final Four, one of his youngsters shed some light on just how difficult it is to do that as a freshman.

"Going through high school you don't really go through plays," Marcus Lee said. "You're kind of just running up and down, especially in AAU. So being able to come into a college team and be able to slow everything down, be able to slow your brain down mentally and just get through the whole 30 seconds and going through the same play over and over is real hard."

At no point this season has Kentucky been closer to overcoming that challenge.

The Wildcats, playing in three straight nail-biters against teams that made last year's Final Four, have had to muster every ounce of focus just to reach this point. Each game decided by five points or less, UK has played possession after possession with its postseason life hanging in the balance.

Fittingly, the next opponent the Cats (28-10) will face presents their toughest test yet on that front.

Only 10 teams in the country hold the ball longer on offense than second-seeded Wisconsin (30-7). The Badgers are a study in patience, their average offensive possessions lasting 20.5 seconds.  

Whereas some teams shoot late in the clock because of an inability to get good looks early, the Badgers wait because past performance suggests something good will happen if they do.

"They don't get bored with going through an offensive play for the full 30 seconds," Lee said. "They're disciplined enough to go through the whole thing the whole time, stay mentally ready and then be able to go play."

If the Cats don't match that focus, the Badgers will make them pay.

"They'll get you down in the shot clock and you think you can relax but that's where they make a backdoor or set a rip screen or something like that," Julius Randle said. "So they're all very skilled players who can shoot the ball and get into the lane."

Randle clearly understands that Wisconsin's success has to do with a lot more than just Bo Ryan's system, a fact that Coach Cal has been sure to impart to his team in preparation.

"So I will tell you that they're more athletic than you think," Calipari said. "They're more skilled than you think. They're not relying solely on an offense. They're not. They run great isos for all their guys so that they put them in a position where it's one on one. Bo hadn't done a whole lot of that in the past, but what I'm seeing, now they are."

Ryan has a number of options at his disposal, with six Badgers attempting at least 19 percent of their team's shots when on the floor and scoring at least 7.8 points per game.

"I think Bo is one of those guys that throughout this game, he will figure out -- and I've seen it in all the games I've watched -- where is there a mismatch, where is there something?" Calipari said. "You do something, Bo does something else. It's like Bo knows. So we got to be on top of what we're doing because he will put people in positions to hurt you."

Ryan, coaching in his first Final Four in 13 seasons at Wisconsin, says the Badgers wouldn't win a collective footrace if you matched them up against his former teams, but he also knows, like Calipari, that saying the Cats are the only team with athleticism is grossly inaccurate.

"When you say 'athletic,' this group we have is athletic in this sense: They have good perception and spatial skills for being a good offensive team," Ryan said. "Defensively they understand they're only as strong as all five guys playing together. Our best defense is five versus five, not in transition."

Because Wisconsin's best defense is in the half-court, the Badgers typically forgo crashing the offensive glass in favor of setting up on the other end of the floor.

"They don't allow too many easy buckets," Randle said. "They're just a great defensive team and you can obviously tell they communicate well on that end of the floor. They're just very solid, don't make too many mistakes."

You can chalk a lot of that up to experience.

The Badgers start four juniors and seniors, and UK, of course, five freshmen. The Cats, however, have little interest in that narrative.

"Every team in the country has more experience than us, I guess, but how could it matter if we're all in the Final Four?" Aaron Harrison said. "We're all just playing to win a championship."

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.

Notes: Bad hip hasn't held Cal back

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John Calipari's Final Four press conference on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari's Final Four press conference on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ARLINGTON, Texas - He drags the pain with him wherever he goes. Like a 50-pound invisible dumbbell, it pulls at him when he climbs steps and jerks at him when he jumps during games.

John Calipari's bad hip: It hurts.

"If anybody's ever had a hip issue, they will know exactly what I'm talking about," Calipari said. "So the season, the end of it is coming at a good time, let me just put it that way."

After the year is over and Coach Cal is clear of any other responsibilities - remember, he has a new book that's about to be released that will need to be promoted - Calipari will go under the knife and have hip replacement surgery for the second time in his life.

But for most of this season, Calipari has coached through sometimes excruciating pain, choosing to withstand a major inconvenience rather than to sit out a few games to have the bad hip taken care of.

"That's just Coach for you," Jon Hood said. "He's more worried about coaching his team than his hip."

He's continued coaching with the bad hip during a season that's been more trying than most.

"I'm going to have to deal with this after the season is over, but the adrenaline you have and how you feel for your team pushed you through all that," Coach Cal said.

Calipari, as he's done for most of the season, continued to downplay the hindrance on Friday at the Final Four. When reporters have given him an opportunity to make an excuse this year and blame some of the struggles on a bad hip, Calipari has declined, doing the admirable thing and telling everyone it's had no effect on his job.

Even if it has.

"I'm just limping bad," Calipari said Friday. "I was taking some pain medication for four straight days and I just said, 'That's it, I'm not doing it.' "

Calipari has looked fine when he's jumped up and down in games and stomped his foot on the sidelines as though he was a 30-year-old coach again, but when the cameras are off and the adrenaline has subsided, it's been easy to spot the very noticeable effect of a hip that's falling apart.

"You don't sleep as good," Calipari said. "You don't get the eight hours. You're waking up. But I'm fine. The job at Kentucky ages you. It's not my hip."

Hood said Calipari hasn't been as "hands-on" this season, but he's not so certain it's only because of the bad hip.

"I don't think the season's been bad on his hip," Hood said. "I think it's just - and don't tell him I said this - Coach is getting old."

Hood said Coach Cal will still "get out there" on the court during practice when he gets irritated or frustrated, noting a pretty impressive achievement in UK's final practice in Lexington when something ticked off Calipari.

"He went out and did a pump fake, one-dribble pull-up," Hood said. "Made the shot so everything looked good then."

Not bad for someone with a pain holding him down.

Fore!

When people look at the Wildcats, Coach Cal wants them to see a team that's having more fun than anyone else.

Anyone at a local Dallas driving range on Wednesday night shortly after UK arrived in North Texas saw have seen just that.

Given a couple precious hours of free time on Wednesday night - about the only free time the Cats will experience all week at the Final Four - the UK players went to a driving range and practice a little golf. Or at least something that resembled golf.

"It was just all fun and games," Aaron Harrison said. "We were just talking trash to each other."

A couple of the Wildcats, in an Instagram video posted by walk-on Tod Lanter, showed off some pretty good swings.

"Jarrod (Polson) will tell you that he was really good once he learned that he was right-handed in golf," Hood said in a player-by-player analysis of the Cats' swings. "He was swinging the driver like it was a 33-inch softball bat and letting go, finishing with one hand. Sam (Malone) was good. He plays. Tod was good. He plays. Derek (Willis) hit the ball well. Marcus (Lee) hit it well. Andrew (Harrison) just has so much confidence he'll tell you he was great even though he was just mediocre. Aaron the same.

"Alex (Poythress) hits the ball like you would think he would: When he hits it it goes a long way and when he doesn't it's hilarious. James (Young) swung and missed a couple times. Willie (Cauley-Stein) was basically holding one leg off the ground and swinging."

But the highlight of the night - for both the Cats and for viewers of a Vine Polson posted to his social media - was Dakari Johnson's stiff, abbreviated, swing and miss.

"Dakari is terrible," Hood said. "Dakari Johnson has the worst golf swing I've seen since Charles Barkley."

Barkley, of course, is known for having one of the worst golf swings ever captured by video. To compare Johnson's swing to Barkley, in all honesty, may be a compliment.

"I've never played golf before so I wasn't really used to it," Johnson said. "I thought I did fine but I guess other people thought otherwise."



The swing has become so instantly infamous that even the PGA broke down his swing on its official website.

"We're not saying Johnson should stick to basketball, but he should definitely see a PGA Professional about that swing once school is out for the summer," the post read.

Shaq

Coach Cal hasn't seen the type of defense Julius Randle has had to face this year since a certain goliath was wearing LSU's uniform in the 1990s.

"He's being played like Shaq was played in college," Calipari said. "He's got three guys on him. You have teams after the game that said, 'I want six sets of eyes on him when he drives.' "

The constant defensive attention, which has ranged from trapping to denying the post to just flat-out fouling, took a toll on Randle midway through the season when his numbers started to suffer.

But when the postseason got underway and Randle got some seasoning, he's learned to deal with the unrelenting attention.

"It's definitely hard," Randle said. "It's frustrating, but I think when you win, it kind of takes the place of that. You don't really worry about it.  ... The biggest thing is that you try to learn how to affect the game in different ways, and that's what I've tried to learn this year.  Just try to help my teammates out."

Succeed and proceed


After announcing Thursday that he was going to rebrand the "one-and-done" label to get rid of the bad connotation associated with players turning pro after one season, Coach Cal revealed his new terminology on Friday: Succeed and Proceed.

"The connotation that's been built around one-and-done is so ridiculous to make it a bad thing, a negative thing," he said. "It's not used in other sports. It's not used in other areas of life where people stay in school for a year and leave."

Calipari emblazoned the new term on T-shirts, which he revealed Friday night on Twitter.



"You cannot proceed until you succeed," Calipari said. "Succeed and then proceed."

Rene' Cornette (@Rene81) was the first to come up with the slogan on Twitter.

The hash tag #SucceedAndProceed was trending earlier Friday.

Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood are in their third Final Four with Kentucky. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood are in their third Final Four with Kentucky. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ARLINGTON, Texas -- To have something and to lose it, to taste something so good and then have it snatched away, that's what makes this Final Four run even sweeter for Kentucky's graybeards.

UK's freshmen have stolen the show at this weekend's Final Four, and deservedly so with the historic productivity they've accounted for in a nearly unprecedented run. But for the Wildcats' "old" guys - veterans like Jon Hood, Jarrod Polson, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein - Kentucky's run to the Final Four has greater significance.

"This is what I stayed for," said Jon Hood, a fifth-year senior who is at his third Final Four in four seasons. "I stayed to get better, I stayed to have fun and I stayed to come back here, the opportunity to win another title."

Hood, along with Polson, could have left after last season and not come back. With degrees in hand and the option to transfer to another school and play right away under the NCAA's new graduate transfer waiver, the two opted to return to Kentucky knowing full well that their playing time would likely be limited.

Hood has played just 47 minutes this season, fewer than he registered in any of his previous seasons, and Polson has played 278 after logging 457 last year, but they don't regret - not even for a second - their decisions to come back.

In fact, they've relished it.

For all the memories they've collected over the years - a national championship, two previous Final Four appearances, and for Hood, playing with 17 players who are now in the NBA - this, to them, is their finest memory.

"I feel like this is probably the most exciting run we've been on so far ... just because the title year we were expected to win every game and this year everyone had us losing almost every game we played," Polson said.

It's the criticism they faced during the regular season when they lost 10 games and the second thoughts they may have had about coming back when adversity hit that have made this whole run all so worth it.

"What made it sweeter is everybody was counting us out," Hood said. "Everybody wanted us to lose from the second all these guys signed. That's just the way it works. To be back here in the Final Four is sweet and is always going to be sweet no matter if you come with us or Norfolk State or some random team, but to go through what we've gone through, the rollercoaster, up-and-down season, it just makes it all the better."

That, at its very essence, is why this Final Four run, even more so than in 2012 and regardless of the final outcome, is already being hailed as one of the all-time best at a school so embarrassingly rich with iconic moments.

After the way the season began, consumed with undefeated talk and with the Cats atop the polls; to the way it went, riddled with youth, losses and a failure to meet expectations; to the out-of-nowhere turnaround these last couple of weeks have produced, it's been a run that the veterans will forever savor.

"This is what you come here to do," said Alex Poythress, a veteran by UK standards. "Kentucky's got a great track record of getting here. You just want to be a part of it and make some history. (Growing) up, you want to make it to the Final Four and try to get to the championship."

But that dream seemed so distant and so unlikely just a year ago when Poythress and Co. were bounced in the first round of the NIT.

It's easy to point to UK's seven McDonald's All-Americans and future NBA players and predict a Final Four is a realistic possibility, but try telling that to last year's stable of McDonald's All-Americans like Poythress who sat in that locker room at Robert Morris and were so far away from this year's run.

"It's just incredible," Poythress said of what a year can do. "It's night and day really. Big difference. I'm just glad we're here and we can actually make some noise."

For Hood and Polson, who had experienced two previous Final Four trips, coming back the game's greatest stage is even sweeter because they now realize just how tough it is to get here.

"You definitely appreciate the Final Four the first time you come, but after last year going straight to the NIT and then losing in the first round and then having to watch and sit through this tournament the entire way without being able to be in, it really tears you apart," Hood said.

Hood and Polson didn't take the first two trips for granted, but to be at the top and get knocked down from it, it's made the climb back oh-so satisfying.

"I wasn't as grateful as I could have been," Polson said. "Just being back here is really cool for me and I'm really grateful for it."

The two seniors have tried relay their perspective to the freshmen who are all experiencing this for the first time and don't know any better.

"The biggest thing that I try to tell the guys is just to be positive with the whole thing and just really experience it because some of the best players in the world have not even experienced a Final Four," Polson said. "This is one of the biggest stages in any sport, so just being able to experience it and have fun with it is the biggest thing."

Because as last year proved, there's no guarantee they'll be back.

"You have to cherish the moment," Hood said. "You have to have fun. You have to live in the moment."

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.

Derek Willis has played the part of Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky in practice this week. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Derek Willis has played the part of Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky in practice this week. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Derek Willis has had two personalities in practice this week.

In addition to his normal sweet-shooting 6-foot-9 self, Willis has been assigned to impersonate Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky, the 7-footer who has been one of the breakout stars of the NCAA Tournament.

But if you ask Marcus Lee -- one of the UK big men assigned to chase him -- the result is merely one Willis-Kaminsky hybrid that makes life difficult for anyone unfortunate enough to try to guard him.

"He's playing the part of the destroyer," Lee said. "That's what I call Derek: Derek the Destroyer."

Informed early in the week by John Calipari that Willis would be channeling Kaminsky, Lee had a pretty good idea what was about to happen.

"Once it started happening we all kind of stopped and were like, 'Really, Derek?' " Lee said. "Once Coach told us he was going to be (Kaminsky) I was like 'Oh my god. This is gonna happen.' But it's great. I love that Derek's being able to do what he knows he can do."

With the freedom to terrorize Lee, Dakari Johnson, Julius Randle and Alex Poythress as the Cats (28-10) prepare to shadow Kaminsky on Saturday at approximately 8:49 p.m. ET, Willis has indeed enjoyed himself.

"Oh, it's fun," Willis said. "I play similar kind of to Frank Kaminsky. I just like to stay out on the perimeter more, but his game is really cool. It's definitely been fun playing him. You run under screens and come out to the 3-point line, play in the post a lot, so it's been good."

Willis, asked for a closest comparison for Kaminsky, invoked the name of Dirk Nowitzki, the former NBA MVP who plays his games just a few miles away from AT&T Stadium. That's a scary thought for the Wildcats.

"He's a better ball handler than you think," Calipari said. "He bounces it better than you think.  Obviously he's their best 3-point shooter. He's playing with a swagger right now, like, 'None of you can guard me.' "

Over the last three games, Kaminsky has been right to feel that way. In wins over Oregon, Baylor and Arizona, Kaminsky is averaging 22 points and 6.2 rebounds, capped by a dominant 28-point, 11-rebound performance against the top-seeded Wildcats in the Elite Eight.

"We've watched a lot of tape on him," Johnson said. "He's a good inside-out player. We know that it's not going to take one individual to kind of slow him down; it's going to take the whole team."

On the season, Kaminsky is averaging a team-best 14.1 points and 6.4 rebounds to go with 64 blocks, but don't let those less-than-eye-popping numbers fool you. Kaminsky plays on a Badger team known for its deliberate pace, so he has fewer possessions with which to work than most players of his caliber.

Accordingly, he is currently eighth in kenpom.com's tempo-free player of the year standings.

"You can't give him too many easy shots," Randle said. "You can't give him any easy shots, open looks. He can really shoot the ball and he's skilled in the post so whatever you do you gotta try to make it tough for him and play without fouling."

He does his damage all over the floor, hitting 37 3-pointers at a 37.8-percent clip and 58.3 percent from inside the arc. Kaminsky is a 76.5-percent foul shooter, right on his career average, but that's about the only area in which the junior hasn't improved by leaps and bounds over his three college seasons.

"It was difficult growing so much so fast," Kaminsky said. "My biggest battle was with doorways. I used to hit my head on everything. Learning to duck was my first big battle. But I knew once I conquered that, that I would be good going forward."

Clearly, he hasn't lost his sense of humor along the way.

In his first season, Kaminsky scored just 63 points in playing 1.8 minutes per game. A year later, he averaged 4.2 points in an expanded role. Four games into the 2013-14 season, he dropped 43 points on North Dakota, serving notice he was the best player on one of the nation's best teams.

"I'm just trying to make myself effective at this level," Kaminsky said. "I came in as kind of an immature, skinny, weak kid to Wisconsin and have taken steps mentally and physically to try to make myself effective at this level."

How effective Kaminsky is against a Kentucky team likely to be missing the defender best-suited to chase him will go a long way toward deciding who will play for the national championship on Monday.

Willie Cauley-Stein, battling an undisclosed ankle injury, is doubtful for the national semifinal. As engaged as the sophomore 7-footer has been this week, the task of guarding Kaminsky becomes that much tougher with Cauley-Stein on the bench carrying a camera instead of on the floor blocking shots and switching screens.

"If I could tell you Willie were playing, I would feel a little more comfortable because he's a 7-footer that can guard inside and outside and all that," Calipari said. "We don't have that guy if he doesn't play."

Instead, UK is left with four options for primary defenders on Kaminsky, none of which is ideal.

Johnson has improved his conditioning and quickness through the season, but remains a 265-pounder unaccustomed to guarding on the perimeter. Lee has the bounce and length to give Kaminsky problems, but lacks experience even after a breakout performance against Michigan. Finally, Randle and Poythress are athletic enough, but will be at a significant height disadvantage.

"We just have to keep a high hand the whole time," Lee said. "You can't really have hands down because he is a really great shooter and we'll just have to be as big--we have to move our feet a whole lot more."

Given his role this week, Willis would know better than anyone how the Cats are doing with all that. After some natural hiccups in the early going, he likes what he's seen.

"You know, they all really did a good job," Willis said. "We would run through the plays and stuff and they had trouble with it at first because it's a different offense than what we've been seeing. After a couple times going through it, they started to get used to it."

Try as he might -- and Lee reports Willis has gone for as many as 50 points in practice this week -- Willis can't produce a perfect Kaminsky facsimile. The Cats will have to wait until Saturday to see the real thing in action.

"It's a great battle to get through, whoever's going with him," Lee said. "We're just trying to see who's going to be the one to step up and do it."

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.

Willie Cauley-Stein is doubtful for UK's Final Four matchup with Wisconsin due to an ankle injury. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Willie Cauley-Stein is doubtful for UK's Final Four matchup with Wisconsin due to an ankle injury. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ARLINGTON, Texas - Willie Cauley-Stein is out of the boot he had been wearing on his injured left ankle, but the chances he plays Saturday vs. Wisconsin in the Final Four still look slim. 

"Don't count me out yet," Cauley-Stein said Friday during Kentucky's open locker room media availability. "I don't know yet. I'm still figuring out if I want to give it a try or not."

Cauley-Stein, who took some shots during UK's open practice but still had a noticeable limp walking to and from the locker room, said his ankle is doing better and said "there's always a possibility" he could play. But he also realizes the long-term implications of rushing back if his ankle isn't healed.

"It could get worse or it could, you know, stay the same, but that's kind of the unknown is could it get worse and then have to do something worse than I thought I was going to have to," said Cauley-Stein, who left the game at the 13:05 mark of the Louisville game and hasn't returned since.

As for what the actual ankle injury is, Cauley-Stein isn't shedding much light. Asked if it was a possible stress fracture, Cauley-Stein said "it could be that," but that he wasn't listening when the team doctor was doing an X-ray on it.

He said he was "checked out" at the time.

"They thought it was a really bad sprain," Cauley-Stein said. "There's just so many different things. It was swollen when they took an X-ray on it so you really couldn't tell anything."

Cauley-Stein believes the injury is actually a pre-existing one that finally gave out.

"I think I injured it during the K-State game in the second half and I just played for the rest of that weekend and then practiced on it," he said. "And then I went into the Louisville game still hurting and I honestly, the whole week, was just babying it. Like if I had to turn around real quick I would hop on one foot and not really turn around on that foot. And then in the game I just forgot about it and then I just tried to do it normal and I just heard this pop. That's when you see me limping and stuff."

Cauley-Stein said the ankle feels better than it did the day before and the day before that.

"When I was first on crutches and in a boot I probably really needed the crutches and the boot," he said. "Now when I try to walk on it and run a little bit--pretty much just scooted around and dragged it (before); I didn't really walk on it. Now I can walk heel to toe a little bit. It's just feeling better all around."

Does that mean we could see a Willis Reed-like emergence Saturday against Wisconsin? Reed, in game seven of the 1970 NBA Finals, played through a torn muscle and started against the Los Angeles Lakers. Reed made the New York Knicks' first two baskets before leaving the game and not returning, but he's long been credited with inspiring his teammates to victory and an NBA championship.

Cauley-Stein wasn't sure who Reed was when he was asked about him Friday but he pointed out the circumstances of his injury are completely different.

"It being in my foot and my ankle, like you really can't move laterally or anything like that," Cauley-Stein said. "You can just limp or kind of hobble around. If it was on my like thigh or my hip or something like that it would be easier and I would feel like all that weight's not directly on that spot that's hurting."

Cauley-Stein admitted it's hurt to watch from the bench the last two games.

"This is what you work so hard for and then to have it taken away from you is really heartbreaking," he said. "You just kind of have to lose yourself in your teammates and be happy for what they're accomplishing and just enjoy the ride with them."

He plans on doing exactly that regardless of whether he plays this weekend.

"I want them to get to Monday and do something special," Cauley-Stein said.

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.

Dezerea Bryant (Spencer Allen, Sports Image Wire) Dezerea Bryant (Spencer Allen, Sports Image Wire)
Entering this the third weekend of the outdoor track and field season, members of the team will have perhaps their best chance this year to perform at their best,

A select group of Wildcats produced times/marks in the first two weeks of the year that will be good enough to rank in the top-32 of the Region and qualify for the NCAA East Preliminary Championships.

The rest of the Wildcats have but one goal this regular season: to record a qualifying time/mark.

Pretty much nothing else matters until that mark is recorded. Only after getting a mark does the focus shift toward tapering training in preparation for the championship season.

And almost all of the Wildcats who got their qualifying times early are now in search of qualifying in other events.

Should the forecast hold, this weekend could be as good a time as ever to get those so-far elusive times and marks.

The majority of the top Wildcats will compete at the Florida Relays in Gainesville, Fla., where the weather on Friday is expected to be in the 80s and sunny. Three of UK's top distance runners have traveled to Stanford, Calif., to run against the nation's elite when it comes to multi-lap races.

Head coach Edrick Floreal chose those two meet locales for this weekend quite consciously. During the spring months in the United States, the time of year upon which the heart of the collegiate track and field season resides, weather is unpredictable.

At least of Friday in Florida it will be sunny and warm. In Northern California Floreal knows as well as anyone that sunshine seems to be a permanent condition, even if it may be a bit cool.

"You don't know what the weather is going to be the rest of the year," Floreal told the team on Thursday. "Everything else could be rained out. The rest of the regular season, our meets are mostly in and around Kentucky and we have the Penn Relays in Philadelphia and Triton Invitational in San Diego for throwers.

"You never know what the weather is going to be like. It could be really cold and rainy the rest of the year. This weekend we're going to have good weather so my suggestion is to take advantage."

Indeed bad weather will not be an excuse for the Wildcats competing on Friday. Similarly, competition level will not be a category worthy of complaint.

Both the Florida Relays and Stanford Invitational boast fields that rival any meet all season. Both are littered with national champions and All-Americans.

The Florida Relays has a strong reputation as one of the best early-season meets for the top sprinters, hurdlers, jumpers and throwers.

The Stanford Invitational, in contrast, is widely considered the nation's top early-season meet for elite distance runners. Many of those distance standouts will make their outdoor debuts there.

Floreal is all too aware of this. After all, he was largely responsible for building and enhancing the Invitational's reputation when he was director of track and field at Stanford for six seasons between 2006-2012.

Both the ideal weather and competitiveness of the Florida Relays and Stanford Invitational could mean the UK track and field teams are in for some eye-catching results this weekend.

At least that's the plan.

What to Watch
Kendra Harrison's 400m hurdles debut

Kendra Harrison ran the fastest 100m hurdles time by any American this season last weekend at the Texas Relays. She will follow that up this weekend by debuting in the 400m hurdles at Florida Relays.

After hurdling only over 60 meters throughout the indoor season, the UK coaching staff has now determined she has developed the stamina needed for what many consider track and field's most grueling event: 400 meters over hurdles.

Harrison's debut will be eagerly anticipated across the country. She is the top returner from the 2013 NCAA Championships in the event. She placed fourth; the top-three finishers were seniors.

Bryant's first 200 meters outside

Dezerea Bryant, the 2014 NCAA Indoor 200m Champion, will compete at the distance for the first time outdoors this year.

The 200m at Florida Relays will provide Bryant with a nice early test. The field's other headliner is Kyra Jefferson of Florida, who was runner-up to Bryant at the NCAA Championships.

Bryant certainly showed she's still in strong form last weekend at Texas Relays. She ran the fourth fastest all-conditions 100m dash in the world this year, a wind-assisted 11.13 (+2.7).

Kayla Parker's Florida homecoming
The Florida Relays will provide a homecoming of sorts for team captain and All-American hurdler Kayla Parker.

Parker is a native of Port Saint Joe on the Panhandle. She is scheduled to compete in the 100m hurdles, in her home state for the first time in a few years, certainly since she emerged as one of the SEC's best.

Throwers look to continue progression
Kentucky boasts a strong group of throwers littered with All-Americans.

But for the first few weeks this year, few of those Wildcats have performed at their best so far this outdoor campaign. That's not something to panic about, it's still quite early and even below their best, some have already posted qualifying marks.

Still UK's throwers are a competitive group. They want to win. This weekend will provide such an opportunity.

Distance outlook
Matt Hillenbrand and Adam Kahleifeh finished 1-2 in the SEC Indoor 3,000m Championship. They'll make their 5k debut at the Stanford Invitational looking to take advantage of a fast field.

Mackay Wilson will look to do the same in the 3k steeplechase as he races that event for the first time since the 2013 NCAA East Regional.

Those three traveled to Stanford separate from the rest of UK's elite runners, who journeyed to Florida. for one basic reason: to run fast against other fast runners.

Aaron Harrison has scored 15 points combined in the final five minutes of UK's last three games. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Aaron Harrison has scored 15 points combined in the final five minutes of UK's last three games. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Anyone who's watched Kentucky's last three games needs not be told the Wildcats have been clutch in advancing to the Final Four.

When UK needs a big 3-pointer, there's Aaron Harrison or James Young. When the Cats need an important free throw, Andrew Harrison calmly steps to the line.

You surely remember many of the big plays UK used to take down three 2013 Final Four teams. But until you look back on the collection of them all, it's not entirely clear just how good the Cats have been when it mattered most.

UK has had 22 total possessions that started in the final five minutes of wins over Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan and scored a ridiculous average of two points per possession. Only twice has UK come up empty on a possession during the stretch, and never when trailing.

It began against Wichita State with the Cats down five and on the brink of a round-of-32 exit. With no room for error, UK scored on its final seven possessions -- 14 points and two points per possession -- and survived a last-second 3-point attempt by Fred VanVleet to advance. The Cats hit 9 of 12 free throws, 2 of 3 from the field and grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds to keep possessions alive.

Against U of L, the Cats were down 64-57 when they took over with 4:48 to go. Aaron Harrison snared a defensive rebound, raced the length of the floor, drew a foul and hit two free throws to get his team going for the game's final nine possessions. Including Aaron Harrison's free throws, UK would score on eight of those possessions, racking up 16 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field, 7 of 8 from the line and another two offensive rebounds.

To clinch a spot in the Final Four, the Cats just didn't miss at all. Protecting a one-point lead against Michigan, UK made its final five shots, including three 3s by Aaron Harrison. The only empty possession came on a shot-clock violation, UK's only turnover in the final five minutes of any of their last three games.

Here are the composite offensive stats for all three games:

  • 22 possessions
  • 44 points
  • Two points per possession
  • 11 of 15 (73.3 percent) from the field
  • 5 of 6 (83.3 percent) from 3
  • 17 of 21 (80.1 percent) from the free-throw line
  • One turnover
  • Four rebounds on seven free misses (offensive-rebounding percentage of .571)

And believe it or not, UK has even better when trailing:

  • Nine possessions
  • 21 points
  • 2.33 points per possession
  • 6 of 8 (75 percent) from the field
  • 2 of 2 from 3
  • 6 of 8 (75 percent) from the line
  • Zero turnovers
  • Four rebounds on five free misses (offensive-rebounding percentage of .800)

In playing three straight instant classics, UK has likely raised the collective blood pressure of the Big Blue Nation. The Cats, however, hardly seem to register a pulse when it comes to crunch time.

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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