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Video: Kentucky-Wisconsin Highlights

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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.

Interviews with Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, James Young


Interviews with Aaron Harrison, Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein


John Robic hits the half-court shot at open practice


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.

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