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The redefinition of Kentucky euphoria

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UK is one win away from its ninth national championship with Connecticut standing in the way on Monday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK is one win away from its ninth national championship with Connecticut standing in the way on Monday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
By Ken Howlett, CoachCal.com

To fully appreciate the magnitude of what the Kentucky Wildcats basketball team has accomplished during its magical run to the NCAA title game, one has to understand the entirety of the story, for it's a multi-layered saga with nonstop drama.

"I've never witnessed a season like this," legendary former UK coach Joe B. Hall said. "It redefines what it means to cause the fan base to have such euphoria. This has been unreal."

The euphoria that Wildcats fans are feeling at the moment comes not only from the Cats' 12th appearance in the national championship game, but also from how decidedly unexpected the team's incredible tourney run is, especially considering that between Feb. 15 and March 8, Kentucky lost four of seven games in uninspiring fashion.

So bleak were the prospects of UK making noise in any postseason tournament that the Wildcat faithful had to look toward the heavens to see a snail's belly after a 72-67 road loss at lowly South Carolina on March 1, merely 10 games ago.

"People lose hope (when the Cats struggle so mightily); it effects everything they do in their lives," Hall said about the rabid UK fan base. "They're hurt, they're downtrodden and depressed. They enter the depths of depression when the team doesn't play well."

Not playing well is a kind characterization of how most Cat fans felt about how poor UK's late-season efforts were. Included in the four losses in seven games were back-to-back losses to unranked Arkansas in Rupp Arena, followed by the South Carolina loss then an 84-65 spanking at the hands of mighty Florida.

The Commonwealth was so down on this team, all aspects of how the program is run were brought into question by disappointed fans. Before, questioning the direction of the program was a laughable thought.

"There was a lot of talk that people don't like Coach Cal, they don't like the one-and-dones, he needs to get four-year players, etc.," former UK great Winston Bennett said.

Without a doubt, the Cats were scuffling.

Then came "The Tweak." After being crushed in the regular-season finale in Gainesville, Fla., John Calipari altered something -- perhaps the way he coaches his players, perhaps the way the team plays defense, perhaps in the way he handles the Harrisons. Theories on the makeup of the tweak are all guess work because Cal has been unsurprisingly coy as to exactly what the tweak entails.

Whatever the alteration might have been, Kentucky basketball history was waiting to be made, because the team was poised to make the singular leap from confounding to champions, in record-setting time.

"And then all of the sudden (for the team) to come to life?" Hall said, happily exasperated. "It's like the prodigal son returning home. It just lit up the world."

Reversal of fortune

Being saddled with an eight seed coming into the NCAA tourney, and with a bracket of top-10 teams awaiting the nation's youngest college basketball squad, Kentucky fans were left mostly to hope. Hope that the Wildcats they saw nearly upset the country's No. 1 team in the SEC title tilt, had enough left in them to make a run in the only tournament that really matters.

Hope quickly morphed into unbridled elation, as the Cats mowed down, one after the other, more experienced and highly ranked teams on their way to a Final Four for the ages.

"To come from where they came in the month of February is just amazing," UK analyst Mike Pratt said. "That's all I can tell you ... amazing."

It's not just that Kentucky has made it to the championship game of the NCAA tourney which has UK fans walking on air, it's the manner in which the team has executed a turnaround never before seen in the rich tradition and lore of Wildcats basketball:ยท

  • Beating the undefeated, top-seeded Wichita State Shockers in the round of 32 after being down 66-62 with 5:50 remaining. James Young's 3-point bulls-eye with 1:40 left in the contest helped seal the victory.
  • In the Sweet 16, beating the defending national champions, the Louisville Cardinals, after being down 66-59 with 4:33 remaining, giving UK fans their first glimpse of what clutch is all about, as Aaron Harrison absolutely owned a trey with 1:39 left, giving the Cats a 70-68 lead they would not relinquish.
  • Then came Aaron Harrison again, this time in the Elite Eight against second-seeded Michigan, as he rose up and tickled the twine with yet another 3-pointer, giving UK the lead with 2.6 seconds left on the clock and sending the Cats to Final Four for the third time in four years.
  • Beating No. 12 Wisconsin after being down 67-62 with 6:17 left in the game. The Badgers were seemingly in control of the contest until a late push by the Cats brought hope out of the closet. It was Kentucky's newest hardwood hero, Aaron Harrison, who elevated from 24 feet away and bottomed out a 3 with 5.7 ticks left on the clock, propelling Kentucky to the national title game and sending UK fans into a frenzy.

"I have not seen anything like this, and I think they've redefined the word iconic," Bennett said about this squad. "It's so amazing, I don't have words for it. Here they are in the championship, and your mind is just completely blown."

No Kentucky team has beat four consecutive top-12 teams to get to the title game. No Kentucky player has made game-winning shots in three straight NCAA Tournament games.

Take note Kentucky fans, because we are witnessing history. The kind of history passed down from father to son, mother to daughter. This team has defied more than the odds because late in the season, common sense dictated little hope be harbored for a meaningful postseason. The history of the thing, though, is in the Cats' response to the experts' (and many fans') dire forecast of failure.

"The ride through the tournament, against the odds, and against the teams we had to go through to get to the Final Four, and to get to the final game is just phenomenal," Hall gushed. "It's the toughest road Kentucky has ever had in getting to the final game.

Simply stated, the resiliency of this team is remarkable. The fans' and sports writers' ubiquitous derision of the club throughout the regular season did not deter this team; it did not cause hope to be lost in the locker room. The Cats were able to put the past just where it belongs -- in the past -- and then concentrate all of their considerable efforts on proving that they are indeed champions.

"You have to give a lot of credit to these players because they listened to Cal," Bennett said. "Now look, you're playing on the night where you will hopefully get the ultimate prize. And even if they don't, and I hope and pray that they do, but (if they lose) that should not tarnish at all the legacy of redefining an iconic brand."

For all the rightful talk of team, though, it's one player who rose above all others and crowned himself Mr. Clutch during this historic UK streak of excellence.

"Aaron Harrison is an example of a true winner," Hall said flatly about Kentucky's coolest customer. "A player who can take advantage of those situations, they have a sixth sense to be able to create such focus and confidence to execute to perfection when under pressure. And that's what a winner is; a winner wants that shot and has all the confidence in the world in taking it."

It's the entire team that deserves tremendous credit for displaying a mighty will to win, a willingness to be coached, and the talent to execute greatness. But some think Calipari needs a back pat, as well.

"Anybody who has any doubts about the greatness of this coach needs to be put away," Bennett said. "I mean seriously, if you had any doubts before now, he and this team should have eradicated and erased every doubt in your mind that he is one of the best coaches in the nation."

The legacy

Ten or 15 years from now, when we look back at the 2014 season, one word will come to mind: special.

"They led us into the deepest depression this community ever saw, and then resurrected us out of the doldrums, and took us to the heights ... a turnaround like this has never been seen," Hall said about this team.

It's not every day a Kentucky team rises from the ashes and lights the Big Blue Nation on fire with an NCAA tourney run filled with unexpected victory after unexpected victory. It's awe inspiring. It's the new watershed.

"The way they turned this whole season around in a week's time prior to the SEC Tournament should be their legacy," Pratt contends. "What made them connect like they are connected now. Their sacrifice to be able to make that connection. ... It would have been easy for them to just write it off, and say, 'We'll just do what we have to do, it's been a bad year.' But they were able to connect, and as Coach (Adolph) Rupp used to say, bow their necks and make a statement. And they certainly have. You have to give them all the credit in the world. It's been amazing."

The legendary perseverance displayed by these young players is what will stick in some people's minds as being the key component to this group spinning a lost season on its head.

"You can be in your darkest moment, and ready to give up, but as long as you continue to strive and keep doing the best you can, things have an awesome chance of turning around," Bennett said. "This team has proven that. I'm so excited about this team, I don't know what to do because it's so unbelievable what they've done."

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

Notes: Improbable UK-UConn meeting historic

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UK advanced to the national championship game against UConn with a win on Saturday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK advanced to the national championship game against UConn with a win on Saturday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Connecticut hasn't experienced quite the serendipitous turnaround that Kentucky has in reaching the title game, but the Huskies were actually bigger underdogs to make the title game than the Cats.

Statistician Nate Silver, who runs the highly popular FiveThirtyEight blog on ESPN, only gave UConn a 2.0 percent chance to reach the finals when the brackets were unveiled. UK only had a 3.9 percent chance of making the title game.

UConn was seeded one line ahead of the Cats with a No. 7 seed, but the Huskies weren't given much of a chance after their recent performances against Louisville. The Huskies were slaughtered by 33 points in the Derby City on March 8 before losing by 10 points in the American Athletic Conference Tournament finals.

All told, UConn lost three games to U of L by a combined 55 points.

"I'm glad that happened because we went back and I had to evaluate myself as a coach, and I hope every player went to their dorms and looked themselves in the mirror and had to evaluate their effort," UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said. "Down times like that just promote you. So I'm glad it happened, because we all got together, we knew what we had to do, the challenge that was in front of us and we were going to face it. We got better from that."

Since the 33-point drubbing at U of L, UConn has won seven of eight games.

Shabazz Napier has continued to play like a first-team All-American, but the difference in the late-season surge has been forward DeAndre Daniels, whom UK recruited out of high school. Daniels is averaging 15.3 points and 7.6 rebounds since that loss at Louisville.

"We bounced back from that loss and everybody was tuned in, everybody was focused and determined," Daniels said. "We made it to the finals in the conference tournament and lost to Louisville again, but we made a bigger step and we played a lot better."

Improved play aside for both teams, Monday's meeting is still historic. It's the highest combined seeds in the national championship since the tournament started seeding teams in 1978.

"I don't think we were an eight seed and I don't think Connecticut was a seven seed," Calipari said.

Only one No. 8 seed has ever won the tournament (Villanova in 1985) and a No. 7 seed has never done it.

Cauley-Stein out for championship

There will be no mystery about Willie Cauley-Stein's status for the third straight game. The sophomore forward, who injured his left ankle during the Louisville game, will be in street clothes with a jersey over top for the national championship game.

"It's tough," Cauley-Stein said. "It's heartbreaking."

Cauley-Stein's status has improved, as he's ditched the boot and crutches of a week ago for a camera he's been using on the sidelines, but the chance to shoot some behind-the-scenes footage and join his teammates in the celebratory dog piles of the last two games doesn't fill the void of not being able to play.

"I feel like a bystander, like a person just watching because I'm not playing," Cauley-Stein said.

Cauley-Stein has tried to stay positive through the injury as his teammates have tried to lift his spirits up, but he was clearly disappointed on Sunday knowing he won't be able to play in the national championship game after all the time he's put in the last two seasons.

"The only thing I can really do is encourage the team and stay positive even though I can't play," Cauley-Stein said. "I still serve a purpose uplifting people and just staying in people's ears or cheering."

Alex Poythress nearly joined his roommate on the injured list after hurting his leg during Saturday's postgame pile-up. Poythress left the celebration with a noticeable limp but confirmed on Sunday that he's fine and will play on Monday.

Stay in school


With Kentucky in the Final Four, the one-and-done subject has been a hot topic of debate and continued Monday morning with NCAA President Mark Emmert's press conference.

Julius Randle, who figures to be a top-five draft pick if he chooses to leave after this season, was asked Sunday if he would have gone pro out of high school if he would have had the option. His answer might surprise you.

"I probably still would have chosen to go to college," Randle said. "It is what I needed as far as maturity level. A lot of people think they are ready, but in actuality you are really not. I am really happy that I chose to go to college and get that experience of being away from home. This year has been wonderful for me as far as maturity level and kind of growing me into a young man. I am extremely happy, whether they had the rule or not, that I chose to come to college."

Pucker up

Alex Poythress drew a huge smooch on his cheek from Calipari after a play in the second half of the Wisconsin game.

"I kiss them all the time," Calipari said. "I don't kiss them on the lips, but I--"

When Coach Cal thought he heard someone say "ewwww" in the media, he pointed out that all his kids are like family to him.

"They don't need me to be a father figure," Coach Cal said. "They need me in another way, and that's who I am for them. I can't be more proud of all of these guys."

Impressing a Hall of Famer

Wisconsin, as strong as the Badgers were defensively, didn't turn over a lot of opponents during the season, ranking near the nation's worst in turnover percentage.

Having said that, for the Cats to turn the ball over just four times Saturday night, especially when possessions were at a premium against a highly efficient offense, was an impressive feat to legend and former Georgetown coach John Thompson.

"Coach Thompson said to me after the game, Hall of Famer, 'How in the world did your young kids play that offense, defend that offense? How did you have young kids do that?' " Calipari said. "They dialed in. They dialed in. We broke down a few times, (but) the reality of it is they do have a competitive spirit."

The student becomes the teacher

Though Monday will mark the first meeting of Calipari and Ollie as head coaches, it's not the first time their paths will have crossed.

Coach Cal was actually an assistant on the Philadelphia 76ers when Ollie was a player in 2000.

"You know what he was doing while he was playing: He was coaching," Calipari said. "That's how he played. He was an unbelievable student of the game then. He was teaching me when I was in Philly."

Pomeroy streak ends

Barring a historic offensive performance by UConn or a UK shutout, Ken Pomeroy's streak of projecting the national champion will come to an end Monday.

Since Pomeroy began rating teams with his very reliable formula in 2002-03, no team has ever won the national title without being in the top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

Kentucky falls outside the criteria on the defensive side of the ball, where the Cats rank No. 44 in defensive efficiency, while UConn sits outside the offensive criteria at No. 37.  

UK will face Connecticut in the national championship game on Monday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK will face Connecticut in the national championship game on Monday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
By Annie Dunbar, CoachCal.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Kentucky Wildcats have accomplished something many basketball players can only dream of -- getting to play for a national title on the big stage -- but the reality of the fantasy is that what's transpired over the last few weeks isn't just made up of the unforgettable moments everyone has watched on TV.

This run has included many long nights, grueling turnarounds and just an all-out grind. The latest was the postgame celebration and media responsibilities of Saturday night's win over Wisconsin that quickly turned into more press conferences and practice on Sunday.

We're talking less than 48 hours to physically and mentally prepare from the final buzzer after the Final Four showdown to when the final two teams tip off in the title game. What makes it especially tough on both the coaches and the players is the struggle to sleep with all excitement and shock of what just happened, not to mention the impossible inability to look ahead at what Monday holds in store.

"If I really told you how late I went to bed, Coach would probably kill me," Julius Randle said about Saturday night after the Wildcats' 74-73 Final Four win over Wisconsin to advance to the title game.

But Randle wasn't the only one who had trouble sleeping. Aaron Harrison said he maybe got five hours of sleep after the Wisconsin game and Coach Cal didn't get much shut eye either. Calipari originally decided to sleep and look at game tape in the morning but quickly changed his mind once he thought about the hard work his players have put in all season.

"These guys are fighting so hard for me, I'm not going to do that," Calipari said about watching game tape. "I'm going to do the tape now. So I was up until about 3:30 (a.m.) and got up about 7 o'clock this morning."

Calipari may have only gotten a couple hours of sleep, but that was enough for him given the prize that awaits Monday's winner.

"We're working on fumes now," said Calipari, who is also operating on a bad hip. "It's not like we're not tired, but your adrenaline gets you through all this."

The only player who seemed to get plenty of sleep after the latest thriller was James Young, who can apparently sleep a lot.

"I kind of sleep through everything," Young said laughing. "I just love sleeping."

Aside from the outlier, Randle believes that once teams are this deep into the tournament, everyone is fueled by the exhilaration of winning the game.

"When you're winning ... that's what gives you energy," Randle said. "Last night I couldn't sleep, just excited about what all is happening. It's kind of hard after everything that happened last night to get in bed and go to sleep. It's definitely a grind. But I'd rather be in this grind than be at home."

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 leads UK into the national championship game vs. UConn on Monday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Andrew Harrison leads UK into the national championship game vs. UConn on Monday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Shabazz Napier, more than any other player in this year's NCAA Tournament, has been credited with carrying his team.

The junior guard scored 23.3 points per game in leading Connecticut to the Final Four, rendering his teammates an afterthought in the eyes of many.

But as the Huskies dispatched top overall seed Florida to advance to the national championship game, Napier proved what he's known all along.

"I don't need to be the guy in front of all the billboards saying, 'He was the man,' " Napier said. "I'm nothing without my teammates. I wouldn't be in this position right now without my teammates. It's just a collective group."

A collective group that needed its leading scorer to take just six shots to take down the heavy favorite for the title.

Napier, playing at least 37 minutes for the fourth time in five tournament games, didn't force his offense against the Gators. Instead, he was content to involve his teammates and be a self-described "pest" on defense to the tune of six assists and four steals.

"I tell my team all the time I don't care about scoring," Napier said. "I don't want to go out there and score all the points. I want to go out there, rack up assists, rack up rebounds, do whatever it takes to get the win. And my teammates are just doing what they're supposed to do. They're showing everybody how great of players they are."

DeAndre Daniels has been the breakout star of the tournament for UConn (31-8), particularly after his 20-point, 10-rebound performance on Saturday, but Ryan Boatright is indispensable in the backcourt alongside Napier.

Not only is he averaging 12.1 points per game, but Boatright has also evolved into the kind of defensive presence his coach always knew he could be.

"He had to mature as a young man and a basketball player," Kevin Ollie said. "It's not all about scoring. He can impact the game in so many ways and he's starting to do that at the highest stage. He's been doing it last year, he's been doing it this year, and now everybody is seeing it."

It was impossible to miss against Florida.

Boatright and Napier combined to handcuff Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin, holding him to six points on 2-of-9 shooting and forcing him into three turnovers. They will look to duplicate the feat against Andrew and Aaron Harrison, the twin guards playing their best basketball of the season for Kentucky (29-10).

"I ain't going to reveal all my secrets, but I'm going to just try to do my best to turn them up and down the floor, to try to make them uncomfortable," Boatright said. "Just try to get up in them and be a little physical with them."

Physical play doesn't figure to bother the Harrisons too much since they have around half-a-foot on the 6-foot-1 Napier and 6-foot Boatright. Nonetheless, they have a good grasp on the challenge facing them as they look to complete a remarkable run through the NCAA Tournament at 9:10 p.m. ET on Monday.

"It's going to be tough with those two guys," Andrew Harrison said. "Probably some of the quickest guys we've run up (against) all year. And they also have a great offensive game. It's going to be a tough matchup. You try to compare them to the Louisville guards that we played against with the full-court ball pressure and stuff like that, so we just have to stay low and be prepared for the pressure."

The pressure will come on both ends of the floor.

Napier is averaging 17.9 points and 4.9 assists, at times looking like former teammate Kemba Walker, who led UConn to a national championship in 2011, defeating Kentucky along the way in the Final Four.

"It's a great idea to be in that situation where people are comparing me to him," Napier said. "But at the end of the day, I'm not him. I want to do what he did: win the championship. Like I just said, we're just doing it a different way and walking a different path. We all want to get to the same promised land."

The Cats, having returned to the team hotel after midnight following a win over Wisconsin, have had little time to get into detailed scouting of the Huskies. They then had to tend to media obligations early Sunday afternoon, but UK planned to get down to business soon after.

"We basically woke up this morning and ate breakfast, but as soon as we get back we're going to be watching some film," Dominique Hawkins said. "We know that Napier, he's a great, great guard and all their players are good players. They wouldn't be in the national championship for no reason."

UConn played the early game on Saturday evening, so has had more time to take a closer look at Kentucky. Napier, having seen the Harrison twins in action, doesn't put much stock into the supposed battle of quickness vs. length when it comes to the Cats and Huskies.

"I think the Harrison twins are quick as us too," Napier said. "They're quick and strong. I don't think our quickness is going to beat them. I believe, when you're young, you got young feet. So I think it's definitely going to be tough. I think the Harrison twins have been playing much better."

That, of course, includes Aaron Harrison's incredible late-game heroics.

The UK shooting guard has now hit deciding 3-pointers in each of the Cats' last three wins, the latest an NBA-range dagger with 5.7 seconds left against Wisconsin.

"He's got that clutch gene that everyone's been talking about," Napier said. "He's not scared to miss the shot, because that's the chance you take. You take that shot, there's a chance you miss it. But he's going to be the guy that's wanting to be the hero and that's just a lot of respect."

But if you're looking for an x-factor that could play an important role in deciding Monday's outcome, look no further than Hawkins. Even though he's unlikely to even attempt a shot -- Hawkins scored for the first time in nearly three months on Saturday -- the matchup with UConn paves the way for the Kentucky native to see extended time.

Hawkins, after playing no more than seven minutes in a game since Jan. 8, has played 37 minutes over his last three outings. It all started when John Calipari took him aside in practice before UK's Sweet 16 showdown with Louisville, telling Hawkins to be ready for his shot at shadowing Russ Smith.

He ended up getting it, and was effective in limiting the Cardinal star as the Cats closed on a back-breaking run.

Smith and Napier, in terms of size, quickness and ability to score and distribute, are similar players. That begs the question: Has Coach Cal pulled Hawkins aside again for a similar conversation to the one that happened 10 days ago?

"Not yet," Hawkins said. "But hopefully he does because I'll be looking forward to the challenge."

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.

One more to go for one of the all-time runs

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Aaron Harrison at UK's pre-national championship game press conference on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Aaron Harrison at UK's pre-national championship game press conference on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The car the Kentucky Wildcats drove in to make Monday night's national championship game, it has no rearview mirror.

"The guys that have played for me know I just keep looking forward," John Calipari said on the eve of the national championship game.

For all the unforgettable memories this Kentucky group has made, for all the iconic moments that will be played on NCAA Tournament highlight clips for years to come, and for all the stories of this team that will be passed down from generation to generation, these Cats are unaware of it.

They have no perspective on the grand picture of exactly what it is they're doing, the history they are making, simply because they don't have the time to process it nor the age to understand it.

"After we win the game we're happy and we're excited, but then we know we have to come right back and play another tough game," Dakari Johnson said. "I think after Monday we'll probably soak it all in. Win or lose it's been a great run, but we haven't really been thinking about the last two weeks."

And that's a shame, because it's been one hell of a run.

When Kentucky plays Connecticut on Monday at 9:10 p.m. ET in the national championship game, the Cats will try to put the ultimate cap on a run that's being hailed -- and backed up by the numbers -- as one of the most difficult in NCAA Tournament history.

UK has toppled the undefeated (Wichita State), knocked off the defending champs (Louisville) and slain the best teams from the country's best conference (Wisconsin and Michigan). The Cats have done all that not far removed from three of four losses to close the regular season, including an embarrassing loss at South Carolina.

Over the last couple of weeks, the players all said they believed Aaron Harrison when he foresaw a great ending to the season after that South Carolina game, but with that adversity well behind them and on the brink of closing out the unthinkable turnaround, Johnson admitted there was some shakiness to the theory.

"When we were losing a couple games, we had a little doubt in ourselves, but we just came together as a team," he said. "We always believed we had the talent. It was just a matter of time when we were going to show fight and compete. I think that's when we knew it was going to be a great story."

All that's left now is one more game and one more win for Kentucky's ninth national title and its second in three seasons. With a victory, Coach Cal will become just the second coach in UK's illustrious history to win two or more titles. The legendary Adolph Rupp has four.

"These guys know how I could care less (about that)," Calipari said. "This is about the joy that these guys up here will get. "

The title would be the first of any kind for a team so young. No team has ever won a national championship with five freshman starters, including Michigan's Fab Five. That group came up a victory short a title, but it is still remembered as one of the all-time teams.

This group could surpass them with a win on Monday.

"They changed the game," said Johnson, who has admittedly watched ESPN's documentary on that group a couple of times. "They didn't care what anybody thought of them and they believed in themselves. I wouldn't necessarily compare (us) to them - we don't really think about that - but they believed and so do we."

The belief by the Cats is probably the most logical reason why Kentucky weathered the sometimes torrential regular-season storm, but some have wondered during this run if a little divine intervention, essentially a date with destiny, doesn't have something to do with it.

After all, UK started the season with 40-0 dreams, lost 10 games in the regular season and then won four straight games in last-second fashion.

That seems too good to be true, right? Well, it's happened before everyone's eyes the last three weeks.

Jarrod Polson, a man of faith, has found himself on the bench sometimes during this run wondering how much destiny can play a part in such an implausible story.

"I'm still wondering about that," he said. "I mean, obviously it feels like destiny is on our side just the way the events have turned out and all of Aaron's big shots. I hope it's on our side. I don't know if God has a lot to do with sports as far as winning and losing goes, but you can never count that out. Hopefully we are a team of destiny."

Julius Randle said a national championship would have nothing to do with destiny and everything to do with a team full of hard workers.

"If we are the champions tomorrow, it will be because we did it together, played hard and trusted each other," he said.

The journey, at last, filled with all its rich storylines and unforgettable moments, will come to a close on Monday no matter what happens on that court at AT&T Stadium. This group, no matter what decisions they make in the coming weeks on their futures, will never fully be together again.

"The one thing I don't do a good job of is look back," Calipari said. "For these guys I keep saying, our destiny is out ahead of us, this team, because we're still getting better today."

But come midnight tomorrow, that car will come to a stop and all that's left to look at will be that rearview mirror. Win or lose vs. UConn, it's all over after Monday.

"We're just trying to cherish the moment and be together as much as possible because we all do love each other," Marcus Lee said. "We're just trying to savor 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.

Aaron Harrison


Andrew Harrison and Dakari Johnson


Recent Comments

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  • Ryan: This is intense, I've never seen a live blog like this, keep up the good work! read more
  • Ryan: Watching this guy is really inspiring. Makes me have faith that guys like him are running the show on the read more
  • Tom Roosa: I just have 1 question, do you think that this team has the chance to have a great year? They read more
  • steve crum: Glad to see Coach Stoops get rewarded for all the time and hard work he puts in to our read more
  • Brian M.: Helluva game, guys! The D was shaky most of the night, but stepped up huge in the clutch. Towles, Kemp read more