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Aaron Harrison celebrates his game-winning 3-pointer with Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Aaron Harrison celebrates his game-winning 3-pointer with Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
INDIANAPOLIS - The T-shirts of the dream, the talk of perfection, the flirtation with 40-0 -- John Calipari was a victim of the expectations as well.

For the first time this season after dealing with the maddening aftereffects of failing to meet regular-season expectations, Coach Cal admitted that he too bought into the hype.

"I had to accept that, too, now," Coach Cal said Sunday after his Wildcats pulled off another memorable victory, a 75-72 win over Michigan in the Elite Eight. "I started reading what everybody was writing. I'm thinking: This is going to be easy."

Easy? This year might have been Calipari's toughest.

After the disappointing 2012-13 season, one that ended with a first-round loss in the NIT, Coach Cal came into the year a new man.

He boasted about the increase in depth, which he said would give him the option to sit kids when they needed to learn from the bench. He bragged about the ridiculous talent and length that six McDonald's All-Americans would bring. He spoke of the attitude of his new recruits and their will to win.

Things were so different that Calipari caught himself singing in the car one day and "talking crap." Order was restored, in his mind.

"It's back to where we were," Coach Cal said in September.

The program is back to where it was two years ago now, but it involved a whole lot more hardship than anyone could have imagined.

"It was difficult because my choice coaching them was to allow them the body language, the effort less than it needed to be, the focus less than it needed to be, (and) at times, selfishness," Calipari said Sunday.

UK suffered 10 losses in the regular season, lost three of four late and hit rock bottom with an embarrassing loss at South Carolina. It was then that Aaron Harrison said UK would still write a "great story," a prediction that has unbelievably come true, but it's taken some pretty remarkable steps to overcome.

It took Coach Cal looking in the mirror and realizing he needed to "tweak" some things. It took criticism - some nasty - that brought the players together. It took a lot of failing before the succeeding could happen.

"This was very difficult for all of us," Calipari said.

Calipari faced major scrutiny late in the regular season when the wheels fell off in Columbia, S.C. The Kentucky head coach was ejected from that game, he was criticized for being too hard on his players, and many wondered if his approach of recruiting the most talented players regardless of age was a one-hit wonder in 2012.

All the while, Calipari dragged along a hip that's so bad that he's had trouble getting up steps.

But that's what's made part of this late-season turnaround -- a run through the "region of doom" that's included three teams in last year's Final Four, a No. 1 seed and previously undefeated team and last year's defending national champion - so sweet.

Emotions were tested. Resolve was questioned. Supporters dwindled.

And yet the Wildcats endured.

"We never lost faith," Julius Randle said. "There was never a point where I lost faith in the team or anything."

After listening to the outsiders before the season and falling victim to those weighty expectations, they learned to stop listening to everyone else when the criticism came crashing down upon them.

"We never doubted each other," Alex Poythress said. "Our coaches never doubted us. We always stayed a little family and our little circle. Just try to stay strong."

The consensus in the celebration of Sunday night's ticket punching to the Final Four is that the turnaround happened just before the Southeastern Conference Tournament when Coach Cal made the now legendary -- and still yet-to-be confirmed -- "tweak."

"Coach did a good job," Randle said. "He simplified our roles. Everything just clicked on both ends of the floor."

Andrew Harrison said that humbling game at South Carolina seems like "forever ago," but the reality of it is that loss was just one month ago. That's a lot of soul-searching to do in a few weeks' time and a whole lot of adjustments.

"It's a process," Calipari said. "Every year it's a process. Some guys get it quicker than others. It took these guys a little longer and it took me a little longer to figure them out. ... It took us four months."

Four months later, they're finally ready to be the team that garnered so much hype at the beginning of the season.

"When they all just settled in and lost themselves in the team, the game became easier," Calipari said. "They became better. They had more fun. They became more confident. And all of a sudden this is what you have."

One hell of a turnaround. One hell of a story.

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.

Injured Cauley-Stein still very much part of team

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Willie Cauley-Stein gives directions from the bench during UK's Elite Eight win over Michigan. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Willie Cauley-Stein gives directions from the bench during UK's Elite Eight win over Michigan. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
INDIANAPOLIS -- Willie Cauley-Stein wasn't about to let anything separate him from his team, not in this moment.

Cauley-Stein was on the bench for UK's heart-stopping Elite Eight win over Michigan. He needed crutches to move around, but he wasn't your typical bench bystander.

The sophomore forward put his own unique spin on "street clothes," wearing the same road blue jersey as his teammates over his hooded sweatshirt. When the Wildcats made a big play, he celebrated. When they took the stage to receive the Midwest Regional trophy, he was right there with them.

Likely to his doctor's chagrin, Cauley-Stein even got in on the jubilant dog pile after the buzzer sounded.

"I jumped on one leg," said Cauley-Stein, who captured the experience with a handheld camera. "I just had to improvise, you know what I'm saying? I felt like a pogo stick."



Cauley-Stein made his presence felt even before tip-off, and as much more than just a symbolic "Win For Willie" figure.

He spoke to his team before and during the game, encouraging the Wildcats to keep playing their game even though he wouldn't be there to play it with them.

"He's been real vocal," Alex Poythress said. "He's still trying to be vocal. He's one of our leaders here so he's just trying to help us the best he can."

He was particularly vocal with Marcus Lee, the freshman who stepped in with Cauley-Stein sidelined. With his help, Lee surprised everyone but John Calipari and had 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in UK's 75-72 victory.

"He was always trying to give me pointers and tips and coach me through the games, through the practices as we went," Lee said. "He was always on my shoulder trying to tell me what to do, which was great."

Cauley-Stein spoke before the Southeastern Conference Tournament about never having won anything substantial in his career as a basketball player. UK is now just two victories away from a national championship -- about as significant at it gets in college basketball -- which you'd think might lead to some disappointment on the part of Cauley-Stein since he might not be able to be on the floor for that.

If those emotions are there, Cauley-Stein isn't letting on.

"Right now he's still getting through that injury and he's not even thinking about it," Lee said. "He told us, he was like, 'I totally forgot my ankle hurt.' He was just running up and down the court. So it was really great having him."

It would be even better having Cauley-Stein -- owner of 106 of UK's 230 blocks on the season -- on the floor.

UK, after allowing 1.08 points per possession as Cauley-Stein was limited to just four minutes against U of L, yielded a season-high 1.26 to the high-powered Wolverines. Even though they advanced, the Cats missed Cauley-Stein's rim protection and ability to switch onto quick perimeter players.

Now, as UK prepares for a Final Four matchup with Wisconsin at approximately 8:49 p.m. ET on Saturday, Cauley-Stein is going to work to get back in full uniform.

"I really don't know," Cauley-Stein said, asked of his status for the weekend. "I hope so. I really hope so. I'm going to go back to Lexington and get a bunch of treatment, a lot of ice and maybe, just maybe, this weekend I'll be able to suit up or something."

Whether he's able to or not, you can be sure Cauley-Stein will be on the bench with his teammates in AT&T Stadium.

"It's sad that he's hurt, but he's still a part of this team," Poythress said. "We're not going to leave him out. If he wants to jump in the dog pile he can. If he wants to run sprints with us this week, he can hop in. We're just happy he can share this moment with us."



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.

Marcus Lee had 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in UK's Elite Eight win over Michigan. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Marcus Lee had 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in UK's Elite Eight win over Michigan. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Wildcats knew at that point they would likely be without Willie Cauley-Stein.

Talking to the Cats after their Elite Eight matchup with Michigan was set, John Calipari offered a prediction of something that would help them survive the big man's absence.

"He told the team I was going to have a big day," Marcus Lee said.

That's right. Lee, the player who had as many DNPs as games played in Southeastern Conference play, was going to star.

"And everyone in the world would be talking about you is what I said," Calipari said.

Lee and his teammates, understandably, were skeptical.

"Knowing us, none of us believed him," Lee said.

For the first minute he was on the floor against the Wolverines, the doubt seemed well-founded

His team in the midst of a characteristic slow start, Lee checked in at the 15:25 mark of the first half. On his third possession, he made a mistake that led in part to an Alex Poythress turnover. On the other end of the floor, he missed a block-out assignment and Jon Horford capitalized with a tip-in to give Michigan an 11-4 lead.

Coach Cal, poised to end all thoughts of a breakout performance for the slender freshman, turned to the bench and summoned Dakari Johnson as a substitute.

But then something happened.

Andrew Harrison drove and missed a floater. Lee, on the weak side, flashed to the rim. In one motion, he rose, palmed the rebound and spiked it downward. It rattled around for a moment before falling and giving Lee his first points in more than a month.

As Lee ran back on defense, Calipari summoned Johnson again, this time back to the bench.

It was good he did, because Lee was about to author one of the most improbable stories of an NCAA Tournament full of them. Well, improbable to everyone except Calipari maybe.

His put-back dunk was the first of three such plays. By the time Calipari did finally bring Lee back to the bench, he had six points and three rebounds in just three minutes, helping UK withstand a first-half barrage by Michigan sharpshooter Nik Stauskas.

"I was just trying to do my part to help my team win," Lee said. "And throughout our practices and our shootarounds, I just got more confident because my team got more confident in me."

His confidence only grew as he produced.

Lee was on the floor as UK stormed back from a 10-point deficit in the final five minutes of the half, slamming down another tip dunk to cap an 8-0 run. Forty-one seconds later, he drove from the free-throw line and hit a right-handed layup.

It was a play that reminded everyone watching that Lee was a UK's seventh McDonald's All-American in Coach Cal's top-ranked 2013 class, including the Wolverines.

"We had very little on him (on the scouting report)," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "But he does one thing really, really well, and that's he plays way above the rim."

His teammates needed no such reminder of that, even as Lee went from scouting report afterthought to trending nationwide on Twitter during that remarkable first half.

"What he did kept us in the game, won us the game," Julius Randle said. "That's what we need from him. We knew he was capable of it all season. We had Willie and Dakari playing out of their mind all season but we knew he was capable of it."

More aware of the bouncy Lee, the Wolverines paid him more attention after halftime. Lee didn't score as UK came out on top after a back-and-forth final 20 minutes on Aaron Harrison's game-winning 3, but he was still effective in six minutes of playing time.

For the game, Lee had 10 points, eight rebounds and a pair of blocks. His performance earned him a spot on the Midwest Region All-Tournament Team alongside Randle, the Most Outstanding Player, and the ever-clutch Aaron Harrison.

"It is pretty crazy, but he really stepped up," said Johnson, who told reporters on Saturday the Cats would need Lee to play well. "He got his opportunity. You know, Willie was out and he more than stepped up big time. He was a difference-maker in the game. Without him I don't think we would have won today."

That's probably the first time in Lee's short college career that could be said.

Lee exploded for 17 points in his UK debut, but in a game against UNC Asheville that was never in doubt. When he did get his opportunities, Lee would flash athleticism but make maddening mistakes that made it impossible for Coach Cal to play the Antioch, Calif., native over Cauley-Stein or Johnson.

He understood why he wasn't seeing more time, but he couldn't help but let frustration creep in.

"Just as a competitor you have it going through your head sometimes," Lee said. "But when you're with your team and you're with your family, it kind of just goes right past you."

Nevertheless, there would be times when Lee would have lapses in practice and daydream.

"I mean, when you have really long practices you have to take some time to yourself for a second," Lee said, smiling. "But, yeah, you gotta get the foot in your butt to tell you to come back to earth."

He didn't need any kicks in the butt on Saturday knowing an opportunity might be coming. Once it did, all Lee did was carry a solid day of practice forward.

"I just tried to play the same way I played in practice," Lee said. "I treated every game like me going through practice. Coach always told me to be ready so that's what I tried to do."

With Cauley-Stein -- wearing a protective boot and using crutches on Sunday -- uncertain for next weekend's national semifinal against Wisconsin, Lee will need to be ready again.

"Marcus Lee, again," said Johnson, asked how the Cats will cope without Cauley-Stein. "He'll get another opportunity and he more than handled this opportunity. So I have no doubt he's going to play well again."

For now, Lee's just going to enjoy having the entire world talk about him. That, and the pride of the coach who believed in him more than he believed in himself.

"Proud of you, kid," Calipari told Lee at UK's postgame press conference.

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.

'Great story' indeed: Cats headed to Final Four

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Aaron Harrison scored 14 points -- including the game-winning 3 with 2.6 seconds left -- in UK's Elite Eight win against Michigan. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Aaron Harrison scored 14 points -- including the game-winning 3 with 2.6 seconds left -- in UK's Elite Eight win against Michigan. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
INDIANAPOLIS - Nearly one month ago, on March 1 in Columbia, S.C., Aaron Harrison faced a horde of reporters in the bowels of South Carolina's arena and tried to make sense of Kentucky's inexplicable loss to the Southeastern Conference cellar-dwelling Gamecocks.

Confidently, surprisingly, he said of Kentucky's remaining season: "It's going to be a great story."

Few people could have believed him. Even his twin brother, Andrew, hardly did.

"I was like, 'Aaron, I hope so,' " Andrew Harrison said Sunday night, shaking his head at the mere thought of where this UK team was a month ago.

There's no need to hope anymore. The unthinkable of a month ago, it's happened.

Kentucky is headed back to the Final Four for the third time in four seasons after a heart-stopping 75-72 victory over Michigan in yet another classic befitting the Wildcats' wacky, mind-boggling season.

Fittingly, the guy who foretold the baffling turnaround punched the Wildcats' ticket to Dallas with a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2.6 seconds left to break the tie and win the game.

"Andrew gave me a hand-off and I kind of fumbled it," Aaron Harrison said. "I had to get control of the ball back and I tried to create some space. He was up on me. He touched my hand a little bit, actually. And the shot just fell."

It fell as if it was fate, as if this team is destined for something special. With the way things have gone lately - the Cats winning four straight games in the NCAA Tournament after losing three of four a month ago and falling from preseason No. 1 to out of the polls altogether -- it sure feels like it.

"I wouldn't say that 'I told you so' or anything, but ... we knew what kind of team we could be," Aaron Harrison said.

It's become the team everyone thought it could be at the beginning of the season when the unprecedented collection of talent and McDonald's All-Americans was talked about potentially going 40-0; the one everyone forgot about when it struggled to 10 regular-season losses; and now, it's a leading contender to cut down the nets in Dallas next weekend.

The Cats (28-10) are just two wins away from their ninth national championship. The next roadblock is on Saturday against Wisconsin.

"We showed a lot of toughness," Aaron Harrison said. "We're just a group of young guys, doesn't matter about the age or anything anymore, we just try to go out and fight and keep our heads down and swing the whole game."

Aaron Harrison saved his hardest swings for the clutch.

After going scoreless for nearly 32 minutes of game time, Aaron Harrison hit four field goals - all 3-pointers - in the final 8:06 of the game, saving his best for last after Michigan's Jordan Morgan had tied it on a tip-in with 27 seconds left.

John Calipari called timeout - which he normally doesn't do so the other team can't set up defensively - and drew up a play for the hot hand. The plan didn't call for Aaron Harrison to take a 3, especially one of that distance, but it didn't matter; he made it anyways.

"You can't be afraid to miss," Coach Cal said. "He's not afraid to miss."

"It was like a rainbow shot, one of those that takes like five seconds to drop," said Alex Poythress, who scored eight big points. "Once it finally went in, I probably jumped five feet in the air. I was just happy."

When Nik Stauskas' last-second heave from half court met only the backboard, pandemonium broke out on the court at Lucas Oil Stadium. UK was headed to its 16th Final Four in school history.

"We don't know if it was another classic kind of game, but I'll tell you this: They weren't going to go away and neither were we," Calipari said.

This one, the third straight unforgettable NCAA Tournament game the Cats have played in, featured seven ties and three lead changes. That almost looked like it would never happen when Stauskas and Michigan raced out to a 10-point first-half lead.

Burying 3-pointers and capitalizing on second-chance opportunities, the Wolverines took a 32-22 lead with 5:10 left in the first half. But Kentucky, as it has done in the last three games of this tournament when it's trailed by nine, 13 and 10 points, respectively, refused to go down.

"They played better when they're down and I don't know why," Calipari said. "They play fearless. They play aggressive. They get emotion. They bow their neck. They have a will to win."

The fearless savior was Marcus Lee. Yes, Marcus Lee.

Getting major minutes because of the loss of Willie Cauley-Stein, Lee not only played well, he kept UK in the game. The freshman forward who had scored just nine points in all of 2014 and none since Feb. 22 scored 10 points on Sunday - four of them on tip-in dunks - grabbed four rebounds and blocked a shot in the first half alone.

Coach Cal, apparently, knew he had it in him all along. Two days earlier, he told Lee that "everyone in the world would be talking about you" after the game.

"He told the team I was going to have a big day," Lee said. "Knowing us, none of us believed him."

It appears nothing is unbelievable on this dream run.

After Lee steadied the ship and Julius Randle tied the game just before halftime, UK rode Randle to six quick points to start the second half and a brief 45-39 lead.

Carolyn Kyles, Randle's mother, saw her son take over, but she didn't get a chance to see him finish off his 24th double-double (16 points and 11 rebounds) and his most gratifying moment as a basketball player. According to the Courier-Journal's Kyle Tucker, she had to leave with 11 minutes to play to catch a flight for work the next day in Dallas.

"I looked up and she wasn't there," Randle said.

He will see her next week when he goes back home to play in his hometown in Dallas.

"I'm coming home to my mom," Randle said.

Michigan came back and took the lead on a 16-6 run, but that's when Aaron Harrison got going. His first trey with 8:06 left gave UK a 58-55 advantage, a lead it would hold on until Michigan tied it at 70.

That set the stage for the final shot and just the latest stamp on UK' reclamation project. Sure, these Cats didn't understand what it took to win for much of the season, but they've learned, come together and now knocked off three of the four teams that were in last year's Final Four.

"It's just a great feeling," Aaron Harrison said. "We've been through so much and been doubted so much that we just came together at the end of the season, just got better, and I don't know how many teams are mentally strong enough to do something like that. We proved a lot to the world - even to ourselves."

They've proved everybody right and everybody wrong at the same time. This team is as talented and as scary as everyone thought it was in the preseason, but it took adversity, it took criticism and it took a bunch of young guys growing up to finally put it together.

"Never give up," Randle said. "The biggest thing is we know we have hard-nosed guys, tough guys. Everybody stayed the course, never wavered."

Now they don't want it to end. They've written their unbelievably great story. Why not make it legendary?

"We're still not satisfied," Poythress said. "We still got things to prove. We still got two games to prove. We're trying to leave on top."

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.

John Calipari is one win away from his third Final Four trip in four seasons. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari is one win away from his third Final Four trip in four seasons. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
INDIANAPOLIS -- As NCAA Tournament paths go, it gets no more difficult than Kentucky's.

It began with a slug-it-out battle with ninth-seeded Kansas State. To follow, the Wildcats would have to beat No. 1 Wichita State, the first team to ever enter the tournament 34-0. Next, defending national champion and scorching hot Louisville, the four seed in the Midwest Region.

UK has to be rewarded with a reprieve after handling three games that challenging, right?

Wrong.

The Cats' final obstacle on their improbable quest for the Final Four is Michigan, only last year's national runner-up and a team that came within a Big Ten Tournament championship game win of a likely No. 1 seed.

If that all sounds tough, that's because it is.

For a little perspective, last year's Wichita State team faced the most difficult path to the Final Four in the history of kenpom.com's advanced statistical ratings. That year, the Shockers got past Pittsburgh (No. 11 in kenpom.com's final rankings), Gonzaga (No. 5), La Salle (No. 51) and Ohio State (No. 7) to reach the national semifinals. The average ranking of the four teams was 18.5.

This season, UK has already topped No. 43 Kansas State, No. 5 Wichita State and No. 3 Louisville. Now, No. 9 Michigan looms, meaning the average ranking of the opponents the Cats will have beaten to reach the Final Four will be 15.

So, what makes the Wolverines such a test? Let's use kenpom.com's stats to explore how UK and Michigan match up.

When Kentucky is on offense


In a bit of good news for UK fans, Michigan has the lowest-ranked defense of any UK opponent thus far in the tournament. The Wolverines allow 1.03 points per possession and rank 99th in adjusted defensive efficiency, worst of any team still alive.

Michigan, however, is not without strengths on defense. A hallmark of John Beilein-coached teams, the Wolverines avoid fouls and keep opponents off the free-throw line about as well as any team. They are third in the nation in defensive free-throw rate, meaning the Cats will be hard-pressed to find their way to the charity stripe as often as they're accustomed to.

UK will need to make up for that by capitalizing on Michigan's average effective field-goal percentage defense (144th) and defensive-rebounding percentage (100th). The Cats, particularly after the way they protected the ball against pesky Louisville, don't figure to commit many turnovers either against a Wolverine defense that ranks 249th in that category.

It's also worth pointing out that Michigan excels defending the 3-point shot, allowing opponents to make just 31.2 percent of their attempts on the season. If the Cats fall in love with the outside shot the way they did in the early going against U of L, it could spell trouble. They will be better served attacking the paint, as Michigan allows 50.1 percent shooting from inside the arc and blocks just 6.4 percent of opponents' attempts (305th nationally).

The numbers, in John Calipari's eyes, don't say everything though.

"They're better than you think defensively," Calipari said. "They cover elbows and blocks. They're going to play that 1-3-1 (zone).  They're going to throw some stuff at us."

When Kentucky is on defense

Offense -- and shooting in particular -- is what makes Michigan elite.

The Wolverines offense is ranked second in efficiency behind their effective field-goal percentage of .558, seventh nationally. Michigan is particularly lethal from 3-point range, shooting 40.2 percent (fourth in the NCAA). Four Wolverines -- Nik Stauskas, Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton and Carls LeVert -- shoot at least 41 percent and have hit at least 42 3s on the season.

UK will rely on its length and athleticism to contest those outside, as the Cats have done throughout the season. Kentucky opponents are shooting 31.8 percent from 3 on the season.

"You found out in that game (against Tennessee), if you give them 3s, they're making them," John Calipari said. "So your hope is to make them tough 3s. They may make them anyway. So somebody said, What can you do? I said, 'Dim the lights, open up some doors, hope there's a wind blowing.' I don't know. But they're going to shoot them anyway."

Michigan is also exceptional in protecting the basketball, so don't expect UK to create many extra possessions with turnovers. The Wolverines are 18th in turnover rate, while the Cats are 300th in defensive turnover rate.

UK, however, can make up for that by closing out stops by grabbing defensive rebounds. Michigan is 259th in offensive-rebounding rate, more often opting to get back in transition rather than attack the glass.

Bottom line

Barring on off-night, UK should be able to score regularly against the Wolverines on the strength of athleticism and offensive rebounding. Tennessee certainly was on Friday night, piling up 1.18 points per possession.

The question, however, will be whether the Cats can guard well enough in a game likely to be played primarily in the half court. Michigan is 333rd nationally in adjusted tempo and hasn't played a game of more than 60 possessions in the NCAA Tournament. UK has also been content to grind it out in March, averaging just 61.2 total possessions over its last five games.

Ultimately, by the quick-turnaround nature of the Elite Eight, it'll be about which team executes the things it wants to more effectively.

"You have to understand, I've got 16 hours to get these guys ready," Calipari said. "The good news is well, he had about 19 hours. So you don't have the time to go and say here's the 12 things they're going to do and defensively here's what they're going to do, you just don't have time.

"It's going to be our best, hopefully, against their best and see who comes out on top.  Neither one of us are going to change much. They play how we do, we play how we do."

(National rankings in parentheses)

 

UK

Michigan

Scoring offense

75.4 (60)

74.0 (81)

Scoring defense

66.5 (77)

64.8 (49)

FG percentage

45.1 (127)

47.7 (21)

FG percentage defense

40.8 (47)

44.2 (201)

3-point percentage

32.6 (237)

40.2 (4)

3-point percentage defense

31.8 (53)

31.2 (36)

FT percentage

68.6 (214)

76.2 (8)

Rebound margin

+9.8 (2)

+0.6 (178)

Steals per game

4.8 (307)

5.2 (271)

Blocks per game

6.1 (10)

2.4 (299)

Assists per game

11.3 (265)

14.3 (63)

Turnover margin

-1.4(271)

+1.4 (1)

kenpom.com adjusted offensive efficiency rank

13

2

Kenpom.com adjusted defensive efficiency rank

27

99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 










   


Stat leaders

 

UK

Michigan

Points per game

Julius Randle (15.1)

Nik Stauskas (17.3)

Rebounds per game

Julius Randle (10.7)

Jordan Morgan (5.0)

Field-goal percentage

Willie Cauley-Stein (59.6)

Jordan Morgan (69.4)

3-point percentage

Andrew Harrison (35.6)

Nik Stauskas (44.8)

Free-throw percentage

Aaron Harrison (79.8)

Nik Stauskas (81.9)

Assists per game

Andrew Harrison (3.9)

Nik Stauskas (3.3)

Blocks per game

Willie Cauley-Stein (2.9)

Jon Horford (0.7)

Steals per game

Willie Cauely-Stein (1.2)

Chris LeVert (1.2)


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 will take on Michigan on Sunday with a Final Four berth on the line. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK will take on Michigan on Sunday with a Final Four berth on the line. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
By Annie Dunbar, CoachCal.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- The streak of juicy storylines in Kentucky's NCAA Tournament run continues heading into the Wildcats' Elite Eight matchup with Michigan.

First it was the team (UK) that talked about going undefeated against the one (the Wichita State Shockers) that actually made it happen in the regular season. Then, in the Sweet 16, it was all about the in-state rivalry of two storied programs, the Battle of the Bluegrass and veterans vs. rookies.

Now, with a trip to the Final Four on the line, the UK-Michigan Elite Eight matchup presents a fitting storyline for a Kentucky group that, as recently as a month ago, looked too young and too inexperienced to do any damage in March.

Michigan, of course, is where the legendary Fab Five played. Heading into the 2013-14 season, UK was compared to that exciting Michigan bunch because of its six freshmen McDonald's All-Americans. That 1991-92 Michigan team had four.

As the year has worn on, the similarities have eerily grown, starting with the disappointment of the regular season.

Michigan, at one point, was just 17-8 and didn't win more than five in a row in the regular season, but the Wolverines came alive during tournament time. The Fab Five, which consisted of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, rallied their way to to the title game where they came up short against the top-seeded Duke Blue Devils, 71-51.

James Young, who calls Michigan home, grew up with Fab Five talk.

"It's amazing what they did," Young said.

UK ended its regular season 21-9, but like Michigan, has come on late, winning six of its last seven in the postseason. Like Michigan did 22 years ago, the Cats have banked on five freshmen starters to push them through games down the stretch of the season.

Facing the school where the Fab Five made their name, the freshmen Wildcats, none of whom were alive when the Fab Five played, naturally were asked on Saturday about the similarities.

"We don't pay much attention to that," Dakari Johnson said. "We just play each game and take one game at a time and just focus on winning ball games."

Michigan head coach John Beilein said he didn't even know Kentucky started five freshmen until Saturday when he looked at the roster.

"The first time I knew that," he said. "I really don't pay attention to that. You're asking the wrong guy. If you ask me about Michigan, I'll tell you about Michigan. I don't know what other people are doing until we play them. That's when I find things out. But I understand that's a media (thing). Freshmen playing is such an interesting fact that people make so much of it, and I get it. I get it. But my goodness, there's so many freshmen out there (in college basketball)."

For now, the comparisons between the Kentucky five and the Fab Five are eerily similar, but there is one key difference: UK's full story has yet to be written.

The balance between fun and accountability

One of Kentucky's focuses for pushing through the postseason is to have fun and enjoy the ride.

The regular season, which was bogged down by criticism for a failure to meet preseason hype, was not necessarily fun for the team. Now that UK is on a hot streak, some stress has been lifted and the players are enjoying themselves.

"We started to have a lot more fun," Andrew Harrison said. "Coach tells us whoever has more fun usually wins. That's what we just try to do. We just try to play together."

As the Cats have had more fun and won more games, John Calipari has been able to back off his team a little bit. Coach Cal cautioned reporters from making the assumption that it's been the other way around.

"Somebody will say, 'Well, he's been nicer. That's why (we're playing better),' " Calipari said. "How nice was I, Julius (Randle), last night? Yeah. You want to ask Alex (Poythress) how nice I was?"

Calipari described a balance between having fun and holding kids responsible.

"I'm holding them accountable, but they're playing the way they need to play, so I don't have to do it that often," Coach Cal said.

Of course, after those answers, a couple of the Cats were asked what it's like to play for a coach like Calipari. Young started to answer that "he's always positive with" him, at which point Coach Cal interrupted and said, "I'm not always positive to you. Tell them the truth."

Laughing, Julius Randle stepped in and shared why he believes Cal's toughness and persistence is what's best for the team.

"He's tough on us, but it's the best thing for us," Randle said. "He's going to push us every day. You may not like it some days, but at the end of the day it's what's best for us. It's not just about basketball. I mean, what he's teaching us goes far beyond basketball. It's a lot of life lessons. So gotta take it in stride every day."

Cats grounded the plane just in time

Short on time, Calipari said he was pleased his team got it together late in the year before time ultimately ran out. The Cats, after an up-and-down season, have come together and played well when it's mattered most.

"I'm just happy we're playing better right now," Calipari said. "Because I'm telling you, we almost ran out of runway when we landed the plane. As a matter of fact, the nose of the plane was in grass. But we got down. That's all we were trying to do is land the plane. And if the runway was 25 games instead of 30 games, we probably went off the edge. Just happy for this team."

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.

Linnae Harper scored 14 points off the bench in UK's Sweet 16 loss to Baylor. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Linnae Harper scored 14 points off the bench in UK's Sweet 16 loss to Baylor. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
By Tony Neely, UK Athletics

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Kentucky's season ended Saturday, as it does for all but one of the 64 teams in the NCAA Tournament, with a defeat.
 
The Wildcats fought gamely but fell 90-72 against No. 5-ranked Baylor, which was the No. 2 seed in the Notre Dame Regional and moves on to the Elite Eight.
 
It was a rematch of the epic 133-130 four-overtime classic that Kentucky won back in December.  And although this outcome didn't turn out the same way today, the Wildcats can be no less proud of their effort, or their season.
 
"I'm really proud of the players for the season that we had," coach Matthew Mitchell said.  "We had some heavy expectations on us (before the season) and things started going in a way (in mid-season) that we didn't feel like we were going to meet any of those.
 
"They were able to get it back together, so we learned a lot, experienced a lot. We became very close as a team this year. I built some great relationships that we wouldn't have done any other way if we hadn't had that adversity, so I'm really proud of them, they had a lot of great moments.  I think we'll look back on this season as being very significant in the development of our program."
 
Kentucky completed the campaign with a 26-9 worksheet, setting numerous accomplishments not just for this season but over the careers of seniors Kastine Evans, DeNesha Stallworth, Samarie Walker and Bernisha Pinkett.

  • This year extended UK's school-record streak of five straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
  • The Wildcats advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the fourth time among those five tourney appearances.
  • UK has charted at least 25 wins the last five seasons, another school record.
  • This year contained five wins over Top-10 ranked opponents -- Tennessee and Texas A&M on the road, South Carolina and Baylor at neutral sites and Louisville at home. 
 
"We've been underdogs for so many years and we've always been able to come together as a team and prove people wrong," Stallworth said. "I'm sure many people thought we wouldn't be in this position with the way we started the SEC but we're just proud of ourselves and what we accomplished during the year."
 
The second edition of the Baylor contest turned out to be a game of frustration for the Wildcats. It began well enough; UK got an early lead and forced a flurry of missed shots on the defensive end - including six straight misfires by All-American Odyssey Sims - but that is where the trouble began.
 
The taller Bears grabbed rebound after rebound, controlling 10 of the first 11 boards of the game, and began cashing in on the second chances.  Problems compounded on the offensive end as the Wildcats earned good opportunities but saw four layups crawl around the rim and fall off. Baylor capitalized with a 16-2 run and led 20-7.
 
To their credit, the Cats didn't panic and started scratching out of the hole. Makayla Epps began scoring on drives to the hoop. DeNesha Stallworth tallied post-up baskets. Bria Goss and Jennifer O'Neill got to the free-throw line, and when O'Neill canned a couple of freebies with 4:31 remaining, the Cats had pulled within 32-28.
 
Then, the decisive time came. Sparked by a suddenly hot Sims, Baylor closed the first half with a 17-4 spurt, and the Wildcats found themselves on the wrong end of a 49-32 halftime score. 
 
Kentucky battled just as gamely in the second half and got within 12 points on four occasions but could get no closer.
 
An analysis of the game shows that Baylor's height advantage was simply too much. The Bears outrebounded the Cats, collected 20 second-chance points on offensive rebounds and totaled 50 points in the paint. Sims, who came in averaging 28.5 points per game, was held below her average but still showed why she is one of the nation's best with 25 points.
 
The Wildcats were led by Stallworth, who totaled 19 points and eight rebounds. Freshman Linnae Harper sparked UK's second-half rallies and finished with 14. As noted above, Goss got to the foul line and made 9 of 10 en route to 13 points.
 
The ending, however, shouldn't overshadow what was another outstanding season for Kentucky. In addition to the 26 wins, the hallmark of this team was who they were and what they overcame.
 
This group truly came together as a team. Eleven players saw action on a regular basis. And even though UK had one of the nation's top scoring units with more than 81 points per game, no one averaged more than 13. UK shared the ball, shared the defense and shared the responsibility when adversity hit.
 
As Mitchell alluded to, the Wildcat ship endured some rough sailing early in the SEC schedule. The Cats were 5-5 in league play with the toughest part of the schedule straight ahead. But Captain Mitchell and his players came together to right the ship, grab some memorable wins down the stretch, reach the finals of the SEC Tournament and go to yet another NCAA Sweet 16.
 
"I want to thank our players for battling through some tough circumstances and doing a good job this year," said Mitchell, who once again showed his respect for his seniors.
 
"Bernisha had a lot of great moments on the court but I'm more proud of her for getting her college degree. She comes from a neighborhood where only two percent of kids even try college and less than one percent ever finish college. She is a success story just by walking across that (graduation) stage," Mitchell said. "Kastine, you want your child to be like her, she's just such a wonderful young woman.
 
"Samarie and DeNesha really gifted us with their presence, transferring here and helping elevate the program. Hopefully they benefited from it, too. A class group of seniors, really proud and feel blessed by God that I got to coach them."
 
And although their seasons end like almost everyone else's, the seniors can hold their head high when they think of what they've done at Kentucky.
 
"I'm very proud of the team, proud of the coaches and myself as well," Walker said. "I think we've come a long way from when I was being recruited by UK in high school, just seeing how the program has changed and knowing I've had an impact on that really makes me happy."
 
Evans also was able to look past today's disappointment and take the long-range view.
 
"My class (committed to Kentucky in Nov. 2009) before that first team with Amber Smith, Victoria Dunlap and Amani Franklin went to the Elite Eight (in 2010), so we came in wanting to make a change," Evans said. "A lot of credit goes to our class, although we're still up and coming and still have a lot more to do as a program, I think we have put our face out there and start having Kentucky be recognized."

John Calipari and the Wildcats talk to reporters about their Elite Eight matchup with Michigan. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari and the Wildcats talk to reporters about their Elite Eight matchup with Michigan. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
INDIANAPOLIS - Ironic as it may seem, in the moment of the games and in the aftermath of two classics, the Kentucky Wildcats have little appreciation for the types of victories they've been a part of in the last week.

"We all talked about it on the bus after, that everybody says that game was the best game ever played and this game was also a classic, and we're like, we're so tired, we don't know," John Calipari said. "We have no idea if it was a good game, bad game - we just know we won."

Proud owners of the NCAA Tournament's two most impressive victories - wins over top-seeded and previously undefeated Wichita State, followed by a comeback over defending national champion Louisville - Kentucky (27-10) has erased the disappointment of the regular season and rewritten how this team will be remembered no matter what happens going forward.

But now that the Cats have made it this far, why stop here? If they've gone through all this trouble, why not finish it off right?

That was the mindset of Andrew Harrison on Saturday barely 12 hours removed from his team's resilient victory over its archrival in the Sweet 16. He said he was too tired to begin with to even bask in Friday's win, but he also paid little attention to the celebration pictures in Lexington with second-seeded Michigan (28-8) on the horizon.

"It's hard (to move on) because we're a young team," Andrew Harrison said. "After a game like that you just feel so relieved. But now I think it's bigger than that. It's bigger than any individual. No one thought we would be here right now, so that just wants us to keep on fighting."

Given little shot to reach Dallas when the field was set two weeks ago, UK finds itself just a victory away from its third Final Four in four seasons after navigating a mine field that's been the toughest, seed wise, of any team still dancing.

The Cats are close enough to the Final Four to taste it, but they say they're not content with the magical ride they've already enjoyed.

"The only thing I can really focus on right now is Michigan," Andrew Harrison said. "I know they're a great team. A lot of people didn't even have us being here or losing to Wichita or Kansas State or whatever, but we just have to focus on Michigan right now."

John Calipari conceded contentment is on his list of concerns after two emotional victories.

"There's a chance for a letdown because the last two games we played were just like slugfests," he said. "But I don't think it will be based on you just played Louisville, now you're going to let your guard down. I don't think so."

Kentucky can ill-afford to lets its guard down against a Michigan team that is among the best in the country.

The Wolverines, last year's national runners-up, didn't just win the Big 10, a conference some regard as the best in the country, they won it by a three-game margin. Had they won their league tournament, which they lost in the Big Ten title game, the NCAA Selection Committee said they - not Virginia - would have ended up with the fourth No. 1 seed.

Michigan nearly did it, remarkably, without its best low-post player, Mitch McGary, who was lost for the season after just eight games due to back surgery.

"We had a plan in place because his injury happened early enough in late August, early September, that we virtually did all of our individuals without him," Michigan head coach John Beilein said. "We had a month of practice in October without him. So we had that in place. When he came back, you know, then we started to work the other plan that we had over the summer. Then he went down again and we went back to plan A. So it was a fairly seamless change back to the original plan that we started in December."

The plan included making a whole lot of 3s - Michigan ranks fourth in the country in 3-point field-goal percentage and sixth in 3-point field goals made - and the best player you've probably never heard of, Nik Stauskas.

Combined, the two have been a pretty formidable force in the second half of the season where Michigan has won 10 of its last 11 games 22 of 26.

"If you give them 3s, they're making them," Calipari said. "So your hope is to make them tough 3s. They may make then anyway."

How to stop those Michigan treys?

"Dim the lights, open up some doors, hope there's a wind blowing," Coach Cal joked.

All jokes aside, a little good fortune may be the only way to slow down Stauskas, who scored 14 points in Michigan's nail-biter against Tennessee and has hit 90 3-pointers on the season at a 44.8-percent clip.

"You could say we're going to try to not let him shoot any balls, (but) he's going to get off 3s," Calipari said. "They're going to dribble at and run him off backdoor (screens) and he's going to get a lot of handoffs. You can't say he's a hard-right driver (because) he'll go either way.

"But you do know if you lose him in transition, if you lose him in penetration and he's open, don't even try to rebound it. Just run back. ... He's that good."

Kentucky's size on the perimeter could present challenges for Stauskas, but at 6-foot-6, he's had little trouble shooting over his smaller counterparts this year. UK will have little time to game plan for him with less than 24 hours until tip.

"I've got 16 hours to get to get these guys ready," Calipari said. "The good news is, well, (Beilein) had about 19 hours. So you don't have the time to go and say there's 12 things they're going to do. ... You just don't have time.

"It's going to be our best, hopefully, against their best and see who comes out on top."

If both are at their best, fans could be in for another classic. Judging by the recent swing of things, that bodes well for Kentucky in its quest to reach the Final Four.

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.

Andrew Harrison shares a moment with John Calipari during UK's upset of Louisville on Friday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Andrew Harrison shares a moment with John Calipari during UK's upset of Louisville on Friday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
INDIANAPOLIS - If Andrew Harrison had to do this season all over again, he wouldn't change a thing.

Instead of fulfilling preseason expectations and flirting with 40-0, he would choose the losses and realization that he and his team failed to reach such dreams. Rather than live up to the experts' billing that he was the top point guard in the class and the next great John Calipari guard, Andrew Harrison would opt for the criticism was slung his way when UK's season headed south.

He wouldn't change a thing because it's defined who he is and how he's playing in the NCAA Tournament. And how he's playing right now is, in the words of Charles Barkley, like the best point guard in the country.

"Every freshman that's highly recruited and stuff, they think they're going to come in here, play out a year and it's all going to be fun, but it wasn't like that and I'm kind of happy it wasn't," Andrew Harrison said Saturday. "There's some bumps in the road and we got through it."

Nobody has gotten through as many as Andrew Harrison.

The punching bag -- alongside his twin brother -- for UK's 10 losses in the regular season, Andrew Harrison has been hit with just about every damning description an 18-year-old should never have to hear. By both fans and the media, he's been described as selfish, unresponsive to coaching and an incapable leader.

Those weren't the adjectives that accompanied his name when he signed with UK as the No. 5 overall player in the 2013 class. A player whose defining attribute was being a winner, he was suddenly labeled a loser by some.

"We have 18-, 19-year-olds that were counted and ridiculed and crushed," Calipari said. "Can't play, not any good, bad guys."

The low points for Andrew Harrison, he said, were the loss at home to Arkansas followed by the shocking upset at South Carolina. At that point, when UK was suddenly in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament altogether, Andrew Harrison questioned himself.

"Of course (I did)," Andrew Harrison said. "In those situations people are disappointed. You have to go back and realize who you're playing for: yourself and your parents and stuff like that. You have to get in the gym and regain that confidence."

Two things changed everything for Andrew Harrison.

One was a more simplified game plan from his head coach. The other was a timely visit from his father, Aaron Harrison Sr., who told him his family was financially secure and that he didn't need to worry about leaving college after a year.  

"That kind of lifted some weight off my shoulders," Andrew Harrison said. "He just told me don't worry about what happens next year. Just worry about the next practice and the next time you get on the floor. So that's what I did and it was kind of relieving."

Relieved of the expectations and free to just play, Andrew Harrison has been at the center of UK's unforeseen and damn-near miraculous turnaround.

Over six postseason games, Andrew Harrison's scoring (12.3 points per game), assists (5.7) and shooting percentage (.422) are all up. More importantly, he's transformed into the leader of the team and the face of UK's uncanny resiliency.

"He's doing a great job leading us," Julius Randle said. "When things get tough, he's picking us up."

Where bad body language once surfaced when adversity would hit, a steely resolve has now replaced it.

"He understands the grind better, how you have to work," Calipari said. "He understands the effect he has on his team more than ever; that he's got to be more focused on his teammates than himself."

Without the criticism he faced earlier in the season, Andrew Harrison said he would have never developed that ability to bounce back when things go wrong.

"I feel like it shows who you are as a man, really," he said. "You just have to fight through it. It's just some adversity, some I had never experienced before on the basketball court. I think it just made me tougher."

Because in order to lead a team like the one Andrew Harrison was tasked with guiding, you need to have the training to do it. Before you can navigate a group through a war like the NCAA Tournament, you have to go through the battles.

Andrew Harrison had never been through those before, and yet it was up to him to lead the preseason No. 1 team in the country from the start.

He didn't arrive on campus until August, a few months after most of his teammates, but everyone just assumed that Andrew Harrison would take the keys to the car and drive the Maserati right to the promised land. They forgot that other than John Wall, it took Calipari's other heralded point guards like Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague time to develop.

"What people don't understand, people think, 'Oh, you're the point guard, you're going to become the leader.' But at the same time, you have to earn it," Andrew Harrison said. "You have to do something to earn your teammates' respect whether it's stand up to somebody or speak up for them."

Andrew Harrison said there hasn't been a singular moment when he's done that. Rather, it's been a series of smaller ones.

When the team has been tired, he's taken it upon himself to show toughness. When his teammates haven't felt like practicing, he's been the first one to the gym. When there were no answers for why things weren't going well as recently as a month ago, Andrew Harrison spoke up.

"I think you have to gain their respect, and I think I did that," Andrew Harrison said.

To gain their respect, he's had to go through a lot, but that's exactly why he's transformed into the player he now is and why UK is just a victory away from the Final Four.

"This is for him - and really all these guys - where they've come from, where they were and where they've come, it's incredible," Calipari said. "Incredible story."

 
Dakari Johnson had 15 points and six rebounds in UK's Sweet 16 win over Louisville on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Dakari Johnson had 15 points and six rebounds in UK's Sweet 16 win over Louisville on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
INDIANAPOLIS -- There Dakari Johnson was, the No. 9 overall player in his class, relegated to a reserve role as his fellow freshmen started and starred.

Naturally, it got to him.

"It was tough at first, just not getting the minutes early in the season," Johnson said.

Johnson had his moments in November and December -- including a 10-point, seven-rebound performance against Eastern Michigan -- but just as often would be a nonfactor, albeit a very large one.

Accustomed to being a featured post-up presence on high-school teams that hardly lost, the normally jovial Johnson found himself sulking. Now that he's started six straight postseason games as Kentucky (27-10) has raced into an Elite Eight matchup with second-seeded Michigan (28-8), Johnson has come to realize that was only on him.

"You can kind of call it selfishness," Johnson said. "I wasn't happy not getting the ball and stuff like that and not really paying attention on what I needed to be doing, which was defending and rebounding and just letting the offense come to me."

It was right after UK's short break for Christmas that Johnson came to understand that. In the days before the Wildcats' regular-season showdown with Louisville, John Calipari summoned the 7-footer for a meeting, sensing Johnson's displeasure with his role.

"He just told me all the things I needed to do to increase my play and just listen to him," Johnson said. "Just focus on defending and rebounding and everything else will come."

It took some time, but now it's coming in a big way.

After playing single-digit minutes nine times before Jan. 18, Johnson has started all but six games since, including his best game as a collegian in the Sweet 16 against Louisville. In UK's remarkable comeback win, Johnson had a career-high-tying 15 points and six rebounds, capitalizing on the size advantage he had over the Cardinals and even showing off the open-floor ability he's developed as his conditioning has improved.

"You know, I just played hard for my team," Johnson said on Friday night. "I just tried to get on the offensive rebounding and just tried to make some good post moves just to capitalize for us."

No one was happier to see that than Julius Randle, who was Johnson's roommate when the two arrived in Lexington over the summer.

Randle, like Johnson, dealt with frustration early in the season. Losses piled up at a much faster rate than anyone expected for the nation's preseason No. 1 team. Randle had a hard enough time with that alone, which only strengthens his admiration for Johnson, who rode the bench for many of those early defeats.

"The biggest thing is at any given moment Dakari could have just let go of the rope," Randle said. "But all he did was work hard. He didn't complain and his hard work is showing up now."

Randle hopes that continues. And frankly, after Friday night, it's going to have to for UK's magical March Madness run to last into April.

Willie Cauley-Stein, the player with whom Johnson has split time at the five position, went down with a left ankle injury against Louisville. He hasn't been officially ruled out for Sunday's 5:05 p.m. tip-off, but Coach Cal termed the sophomore "doubtful."

Johnson, who played a career-high 31 minutes after Cauley-Stein left early in the first half against Louisville, isn't overcomplicating the task he'll be faced with in playing an expanded role.

Though he'll assume many of his minutes, Johnson can't afford to fall into the trap of trying to become Cauley-Stein. He's not going to develop Cauley-Stein's quick-twitch athleticism and shot-blocking ability overnight, so he may as well focus on what he does well.

"Just keep on doing what I'm doing, just bringing energy to the team," Johnson said. "Probably playing more minutes and sustaining that."

He was also sure to point out that fellow freshman Marcus Lee, who hasn't played double-digit minutes in a game since January, will need to be ready as well. Lee saw one minute of second-half action against Louisville.

Whether it's Johnson, Lee or Randle at the five in UK's "small" lineup, the Cats will have a size advantage on the Wolverines, who feature just one player in their regular rotation taller than 6-8.

But just as Johnson learned that his pedigree wasn't going to earn him anything on its own, so too will UK have to make that edge pay off on the floor.

"We have a size advantage but also Michigan's a very physical team," Johnson said. "So I really don't think that's a big factor for us. We just have to go out there and compete."

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.

Recent Comments

  • Guy Ramsey: The song is "The Mighty Rio Grande" by the band This Will Destroy You. read more
  • Griffin: What's the name of the song that this video starts playing when describing Cal getting ejected and Aaron talking about read more
  • Quinn : It was an amazing run! I hope you all return and make another stab at it. read more
  • Sandy Spears: I completely with the person's comment above. So proud of all the young men and their accomplishments. They have everything read more
  • BJ Rassam: The Cats came so close to winning another NCAA basketball championship. read more
  • chattyone: Congratulations to our Wildcats! They are terrific. All of us just like these young men are disappointed in the loss, read more
  • clint bailes: Such a great season! You guys fought hard til the end. Loved watchin the season! Can't wait til next season. read more
  • Andrea Boyd: you guys are AMAZING! as individuals and as a team. thank you for your tremendous playing and work and attitudes. read more
  • laura n: What an honor and privledge to watch all of you grow into incredible young men. Never enjoyed a season more. read more
  • Amy Carnes: Very proud of you cats you have really grow as a team .You proved all the doubters wrong. And have read more