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INDIANAPOLIS -- Willie Cauley-Stein, who suffered a left ankle injury in Kentucky's 74-69 Sweet 16 victory over Louisville, is telling his team he's going to try to play vs. Michigan, but John Calipari said on Saturday his sophomore center is "doubtful" for the Wildcats' Elite Eight game.

"He's still in a boot. He's doubtful," Calipari said. "He's acting like he thinks he can do something. I would be stunned if he played in this game, but he's saying he may want to give it a try. But he hasn't been out of that boot."

Cauley-Stein left Friday's game at the 13:05 mark, though it's still unclear what exactly happened. The sophomore forward limped off the court and received treatment on the sidelines before hobbling back to the locker room.

He never returned to the game or the bench.

"It's not an Achilles," Calipari said. "It's an ankle. It's his ankle."

When Cauley-Stein's teammates saw him on the trainer's table during halftime and learned they would be without him for rest of the game, several of the Cats told him they were going to win it for him.

Calipari was told Cauley-Stein was going "bonkers" in the locker room rooting for his teammates, but it looks like he will be reduced to nothing but a cheerleader again on Sunday.

"Hopefully he's able to limp his way in there and give us a few minutes, but maybe he can't," Coach Cal said.

If Cauley-Stein can't play, UK will lose its best defender. Cauley-Stein led the team with 106 blocks in 37 games, and down the stretch he's been instrumental in UK's turnaround, swatting 18 shots in the previous five contests.

Without the lanky 7-footer, the Cats blocked just two shots on Friday, well below their 6.1 average.

"It changes a lot," Aaron Harrison said. "He's a great defender, blocks a lot of shots, drives from the corners."

Dakari Johnson stepped up in Cauley-Stein's place, scoring a career-high-tying 15 points and grabbing six rebounds, but his role will become even more vital going forward.

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.

Dominique Hawkins played 15 minutes in UK's 74-69 win over Louisville on Friday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Dominique Hawkins played 15 minutes in UK's 74-69 win over Louisville on Friday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Story by Eric Lindsey and Guy Ramsey

INDIANAPOLIS -- Few likely expected Dominique Hawkins to even see the floor in the Sweet 16, but a conversation with his coach on Friday had him prepared.

John Calipari pulled the freshman guard aside at UK's open practice at Lucas Oil Stadium, telling Hawkins -- who hadn't played more than seven minutes in a game since Jan. 8 -- he better be ready for the challenge of shadowing one of the nation's best players.

"He basically told me, 'You know who you're going to be guarding, right, if I put you in?' " Calipari said. "I was like, 'Yeah, I know Coach.' And he told me, 'Get ready for it if I call your name. That's who you're going to be guarding.' "

That who, of course, was Louisville's Russ Smith, the 6-foot senior All-American. And with 14:34 left in the first half, Hawkins got his shot.

Forgoing any thoughts of scoring -- Hawkins didn't attempt a single field goal or even register a statistic other than a foul -- he put Smith in his crosshairs.

"My focus was on my defense," Hawkins said. "I feel like that's the best part of my game and I know I'm guarding one of the best guards in college basketball right now. I was taking it real personal. If he scored on me and I was going to be upset about it and if I defended I was going to be happy and try to do it again."

Smith, as Smith does, did his share of scoring. He poured in 23 points on 9-of-20 shooting, but Hawkins made him work hard for the 15 minutes he was on the floor.

After James Young fouled out, Hawkins played the final 5:32. UK outscored U of L 17-5 during that stretch, overcoming a seven-point deficit to advance to the Elite Eight with a 74-69 win. Smith scored just two points on 1-of-4 shooting over the final minutes, committing a crucial turnover to boot.

It was the first time Hawkins had played in crunch time in a win-or-go-home scenario since last March when he led Madison Central to the Kentucky state championship. With the Wildcats mounting their late rally, Hawkins says he called on that experience.

"You just gotta keep fighting and fighting," Hawkins said. "That's the only thing I know how to do. ... When I was in the Sweet 16, Kentucky state, I know that we were down a lot and we just kept fighting and fighting. The result will end in a win if you keep on doing that."

That's representative of the way Hawkins has approached his entire freshman season. Even as his playing time has dwindled, his mentality has remained the same. On Friday, that paid off.

"He was ready," Calipari said. "I just thought it was a better game for him than Jarrod (Polson). He's more of a pit bull. I thought he could play against those guys, and he did well."

Polson is the player who has taken Hawkins' spot in the rotation over the last two months and understands the challenged of staying tuned in when the minutes aren't coming. That's why he was so impressed by what Hawkins did on Smith.

"I can't say enough about Dominique," Polson said. "I feel like he's deserved a lot more time than he has gotten this year. But he's never complained once this whole year. For him to be able to step up and play like he did was huge for us. I'm just extremely happy for him."

That's a feeling many likely share in seeing the always-smiling Hawkins have success. Polson, however, isn't surprised as many others are that it happened on this stage.

"That's who he is," Polson said. "He's a really good defender and putting him on Russ Smith was really good for us tonight. He kind of got into him a little bit and that was good. I don't know, that's just Dominique for you. And he played well tonight."

Messy start

The way things started, the way the Wildcats settled for 3-pointers, clanked them and reverted to their old ways, one could have deduced that the progress of the last few weeks had vanished with one daunting game against their archrivals.

"Just so you know, before the game, our staff talked today and we knew how this would start," Calipari said. "They're going to pee down their leg is what I said. They will pee down their leg and let's just be positive and keep them going."

The Cats, who have found their shooting stroke late in the season, went to the well one too many times in the opening minutes of Friday's Sweet 16 game, taking five 3-pointers in the opening four minutes, missing all five.

UK's reliance on perimeter shots, coupled with Louisville's efficient start, put UK in an early 18-5 hole, but the Cats never panicked.

Calipari reminded his team what Tennessee did the game before in nearly coming back from a double-digit deficit and told his players they were fine.

They responded to their head coach as they did last week when they came back from a nine-point hole against Wichita State.

"With so much adversity we've been through all year, nothing we haven't seen," Andrew Harrison said. "So we knew we were going to get him and we'd have to swing back, and we did that."

Road to Final Four runs through last year's Final Four for Cats

For a team that lacked so-called quality wins in the regular season, Kentucky has captured the two most impressive wins of the NCAA Tournament at the halfway point.

By beating Wichita State and Louisville in back-to-back games, UK has eliminated the two highest-ranked teams that are no longer alive in the tournament. The Shockers and the Cardinals were ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll coming into the Big Dance.

"I think we played a lot of tough games this year," Aaron Harrison said. "Having a tough schedule really helps us throughout this tournament because we've been through a lot and been through tough games."

But the road to the Final Four doesn't get any easier.

UK's game against Michigan on Sunday will mark the third straight matchup against a team that was in last year's Final Four. The Wolverines, seeded No. 2 in the Midwest Region, were discussed as a potential No. 1 seed before losing in the Big 10 championship.

UK capitalizes on U of L's charity


UK has been criticized for leaving points at the foul line this year, but the Cats' ability to hit their free throws vs. Louisville not only kept them in the game early when the Cardinals threatened to pull away, it helped them ice the game late.

Kentucky hit 11 of 12 free throws over the final 7:23 and 22 of 27 (81.5 percent) for the game.

Conversely, U of L made just 13 of 23 at the charity stripe, keeping UK in the game in the first half when the Cards made just 6 of 15.

Over the last two games, Kentucky has made 38 of 49 at the line (77.6 percent).

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

Alex Poythress scored all six of his points during UK's game-ending 15-3 run. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Alex Poythress scored all six of his points during UK's game-ending 15-3 run. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
INDIANAPOLIS -- After everything that had just happened, there was really only one question on anyone's mind.

Dakari Johnson was the man it was directed to.

"Dakari, how in the hell did you guys win this game?"

How, indeed.

UK had just completed an improbable rally from 13 points down in the first half and seven with less than five minutes to go to take defending national champion Louisville. The Wildcats did it without defensive anchor Willie Cauley-Stein, who exited with an ankle injury early, and with swingman James Young on the bench for the final minutes with five fouls.

After a hearty laugh, Johnson offered a simple reason why UK had just pulled off a 74-69 victory.

"Well, when we were down by seven Alex (Poythress) made a lot of key plays for us," Johnson said. "I think he played well down the stretch for us. I think he won the game for us."

It was Poythress's dunk that started the 15-3 run on which UK closed the game. Thirty seconds later, it was his block of a Louisville layup -- the kind of play Cauley-Stein would normally make -- that gave the ball back to the Cats.

"I think the block that he got was probably the biggest play, when he blocked Russ Smith," said Dominique Hawkins, who made more than his share of big plays in chasing U of L's dynamic senior guard.

Julius Randle would bring UK to within three with a bank shot in the post, setting Poythress up for another signature moment.

At the top of the key, Luke Hancock -- seemingly poised to close out another NCAA Tournament victory for the Cardinals -- came around a ball screen and Poythress switched onto him. Finding another level of focus as Hancock drove to the basket, Poythress stripped the reigning Final Four Most Outstanding Player and forced a turnover.

To finish off what was probably the best -- and undoubtedly the most important -- three-minute stretch of his UK career, Poythress corralled an offensive rebound, finished through contact and hit the ensuing free throw to tie the game at 66-all. Forty-five seconds later, he skied for a rebound, was fouled and hit one of two free throws to give UK its first lead since 2-0.

Prior to his outburst, to call Poythress's night quiet would have been too kind.  At that point, the sophomore forward was scoreless and had just two rebounds.

With Cauley-Stein in the locker room, John Calipari needed his other big men to step up. Johnson was, punishing the archrival Cardinals to the tune of 15 points and six rebounds, as was Randle, who posted his 23rd double-double.

To pull off a second upset in five days and advance to a fourth Elite Eight in five seasons, Poythress would have to follow suit. Coach Cal told him so on the sideline in no uncertain terms.

"He was crushing him pretty bad," Jarrod Polson said. "I just think it's 'cause he just knows how good Alex is."

Polson, who counts Poythress as one of his closest friends on the team, took it upon himself to take him aside to reinforce in slightly softer terms the message he knew Calipari was trying to send.

"I just was telling him to keep his head up," Polson said. "I was just telling him, 'You're one of the best players I've ever played with and keep your confidence.' "

With that combination of Calipari's prodding and Polson's cajoling, Poythress played like a man possessed.

"I was just trying to step up for my team," Poythress said. "The team needed me. They were telling me they needed me. I was just trying to step up for them."

He did, and Kentucky moved on because of it. Now, to take the next step past second-seeded Michigan and into the Final Four, the Cats will need him once more.

"We were begging him the whole game to start playing, and he played at the right time," Calipari said. "It was unbelievable how he finished. That's who he needs to be for us as we finish the year out."

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.

Cats win one for Willie

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Dakari Johnson, stepping in for the injured Willie Cauley-Stein, had 15 points in UK's Sweet 16 win over Louisville. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Dakari Johnson, stepping in for the injured Willie Cauley-Stein, had 15 points in UK's Sweet 16 win over Louisville. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
INDIANAPOLIS -- With its best defensive player hobbling to the locker room and the team down 13 points, the Kentucky Wildcats had a choice on Friday night with their postseason lives on the line: retreat or win it for Willie.

Willie Cauley-Stein, the anchor of UK's defense, suffered a left ankle injury at the 13:05 mark of the Cats' Sweet 16 game vs. Louisville. It's unclear how Cauley-Stein injured his ankle, but after he limped off the court, down the tunnel and to the locker room on one foot, Cauley-Stein never returned to the game.

Instead of folding, the Wildcats (27-10)  rallied back. When they saw him on the trainer's table at halftime and learned he wouldn't be back, they decided to win one for him.

"We were pretty sure that he wasn't coming back at all," Jarrod Polson said. "We all shook his hand and were all kind of saying, 'We got this for you.' "

And win for him -- 74-69 over archrival U of L -- they did.

Throughout the second half, Kentucky played with a spark on both ends of the court, even without their leading shot blocker.

Offensively, Julius Randle's right-on-the-money assist to set up Aaron Harrison's 3 put the Cats in the lead 70-68 with 39 seconds remaining. Dominique Hawkins' smack talk and pit-bull like presence helped contain Russ Smith. Without Cauley-Stein's threat at the rim, Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress stepped up, snagged some key rebounds, and in Poythress' case, blocked a huge shot.

"Just tried to imitate him," Poythress said on playing without Cauley-Stein. "It's hard to, with the great shot blocker he is. We just (had) people who could do it. Me, Julius, Marcus Lee off the bench doing it too. We just gotta try to win for him."

Back in the locker room, as his teammates came back without him, Cauley-Stein was his usual energetic self, Calipari said.

"The doctor told me he was absolutely going bonkers in the locker room for game, like for the team, cheering," Calipari said. "They had to hold him down. He was going crazy."

The extent of Cauley-Stein's injury is still unknown.

"It's not a good ankle injury," Calipari said. "Let me just put it that way."

If the injury is as bad as Coach Cal feared in the early hours of Saturday, the Cats will need Dakari Johnson to rewind and replay his performance against the Louisville Cardinals.

Johnson scored a career-high-tying 15 points, two of which came from a monstrous dunk that won't soon be forgotten.

"We didn't really know he could do that," Andrew Harrison said. "But Dakari is a great low-post player. He's hard to guard. He played with a lot of energy."

Johnson, playing a career-high 31 minutes in Cauley-Stein's absence, also posted six boards and three steals.

Calipari was pleased with his ability to draw "and ones."

"Dakari played well today," Coach Cal said. "That 3-point play, that made free throw, that was huge. That just kept eating in their lead to where we could get it close."

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 and James Young celebrate UK's 74-69 win over Louisville in the Sweet 16. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Andrew Harrison and James Young celebrate UK's 74-69 win over Louisville in the Sweet 16. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
INDIANAPOLIS - To hear Andrew Harrison tell it, the Kentucky Wildcats were comfortable when they were down 13 and without Willie Cauley-Stein, who was lost for the rest of the game with a left ankle injury.

They were comfortable when Luke Hancock hit back-to-back 3-pointers, James Young fouled out and momentum was swinging in Louisville's favor. They were comfortable down seven to the defending national champions with 4:33 left in the game.

Comfortable? Are you kidding?

Believe it, because these Kentucky Wildcats continue to do the unbelievable in the postseason.

Left for dead like they were so many times this season, the Cats (27-10) jolted back to life late in Friday's Sweet 16 matchup and somehow knocked off their archrivals with a shocking, almost impossible-to-fathom 74-69 victory over the Cardinals (31-6) at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

"Told them before the game, you'll get punched in the mouth and you're going to taste blood," John Calipari said. "You're going to fight or brace yourself for the next shot. They fought. They never stopped playing."

Even when the late-season turnaround seemed to finally be coming to an end.

"As much stuff as we've been through all year, it's nothing we haven't seen," Andrew Harrison said.

This was just the latest magic trick in a season that seemed destined for failure as recently as three weeks ago.

Trailing 66-59 with 4:33 remaining, the Cats, who had seemingly hung around all game without ever getting over the hump, went on a 15-3 run to close out the game. When Russ Smith missed a 3-pointer with just four seconds to go and Aaron Harrison followed with two game-clinching free throws, UK was headed back to the Elite Eight for the fourth time in five seasons under Coach Cal.

As the Cats jumped jubilantly at midcourt for the second straight game, one thing was crystal clear: The disappointment of the regular season is now a thing of the past. For all the expectations UK didn't meet in the regular season, it has exceeded them in the postseason and rewritten how this team will be remembered.

"In a way I think we have (rewritten our history)," Julius Randle said. "We just kind of had to put the past behind us and leave it where it was. It's a new season, the postseason. That's all we can worry about, survive and advance, and we've gotta take it one game at a time."

The next game up will be a date with second-seeded Michigan on Sunday at 5:05 p.m. on CBS with a berth to the Final Four on the line.

As improbable as a trip back to Dallas appeared to be a month ago, UK is still in the hunt thanks to timely plays from Alex Poythress and steely resolve from the Harrison twins and Julius Randle.

Poythress, nothing short of a nonfactor for the first 35-plus minutes of the game, ignited the comeback when Andrew Harrison found him wide open on the baseline with a slick one-handed pass for a dunk.

On the very next possession, with Louisville's Smith looking to provide the dagger, Poythress seemingly came out of nowhere to block Smith's shot off the backboard. After Randle got UK within three on a jumper, Poythress manned up on Hancock, who had torched the Cats just minutes earlier, and forced a turnover.

"We were begging him the whole game to start playing and he played at the right time," Coach Cal said. "It was unbelievable how he finished."

After Randle missed a pair of shots inside, Poythress got the second offensive rebound in traffic, went back up against Montrezl Harrell and banked the shot in. The foul was the fourth on Harrell, U of L's best big man, and the ensuing free throw tied the game.

But he wasn't done yet.

After a turnover by Smith, Poythress got the ball again and knocked Harrell out of the game. He hit 1 of 2 free throws to give UK a 67-66 lead.

"He's the reason we won the game," Aaron Harrison said.

Aaron Harrison may have had a thing or two to do with it too.

Down by one after a Smith jumper, Calipari put the ball back in the hands of his best player, Randle, to deliver the knockout punch, and he delivered - with a pass.

Randle drove into the lane, spun into traffic and then kicked it out to Aaron Harrison in the corner. Like he has done so many times in the postseason, Aaron Harrison swished the 3, giving UK a 70-68 lead it would never relinquish.

"I was definitely looking to shoot but I saw Aaron just wide open in the corner," Randle said. "He's made that shot a million times. I didn't even really go to offensive rebound because I knew he was making it."

Said Calipari: "Three weeks ago he would have shot a hook to try to get that at the basket. Now, he's just playing the game as it comes. And that's what - they're playing for each other. They have finally surrendered and lost themselves in the team. It's just taken us a long time."

Wayne Blackshear missed 1 of 2 free throws with 14.2 seconds left, Randle sunk two more free throws to go back up by three and Smith missed a game-tying 3 in the closing seconds, sending a bunch of freshmen and sophomores who weren't supposed to have this type of resolve to the Elite Eight amid a week of unrelenting buildup and hype.

In the process, UK delivered Rick Pitino his first loss in 12 games in the Sweet 16 while improving Calipari's record to 6-1 vs. Louisville as Kentucky's head coach.

"It's just we got to keep fighting," Aaron Harrison said. "I think we've gotten that over the last three or four weeks. We've been down in the last couple of games and we knew we'd been through a lot this season and we knew we could get through anything if we got through what we did this season."

They even got through a devastating injury to their best defensive player, Cauley-Stein, who left the game with 13:05 left in the first half with an ankle injury. Calipari confirmed after the game that "it's not a good ankle injury," but that was obvious when Cauley-Stein limped back to the locker room with hardly any weight on his left foot.

UK could have folded, down 13 just seconds after the injury, but Dakari Johnson stepped up with a career-high-tying 15 points and six rebounds, Randle bullied his way to 15 points and 12 rebounds, and the Harrison twins combined for 29 points.

Kentucky shot just 43.6 percent overall and allowed U of L's three-headed monster of Smith, Harrell and Hancock to have their way offensively, but the Cardiac Cats, who don't seemed to be fazed by any type of adversity anymore after a roller-coaster regular season, never wilted.

They seem to like the taste of blood.

"This team has fought the whole year," Calipari said. "They're maturing right before our eyes."

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.

Video: Post-U of L player interviews

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  • 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