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Kentucky  players celebrate after an NCAA Midwest Regional final college basketball tournament game against Michigan Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Indianapolis. Kentucky won 75-72 to advance to the Final Four. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kentucky players celebrate after an NCAA Midwest Regional final college basketball tournament game against Michigan Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Indianapolis. Kentucky won 75-72 to advance to the Final Four. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

By LARRY VAUGHT

INDIANAPOLIS — So much for Kentucky’s bad seeding and difficult road to the Final Four.

Kentucky beat Kansas State, No. 1 seed Wichita State, No. 4 seed Louisville and No. 2 seed Michigan to reach its third Final Four in four years.

“I knew when I saw what was out there we were going to have a tough road.  Kansas State is really good, too, by the way,” Calipari said Sunday. “When you think of who we just had to play, and the games were epic games, all of them, we got down in each of them, maybe double digits.  Can anybody confirm that?  Did we get down in double digits every one of those games, the last three?

“And I hate to say this, they played better when they’re down and I don’t know why.  They play fearless.  They play aggressive.  They get emotion.  They bow their neck.  And they want to win.  They have a will to win.

“And each of those games we got down and all of a sudden we’re down most of the game and we come back and win it at the end.  And somebody’s gotta make a play, which means they can’t be afraid of missing a shot.  Just play.”

Kentucky's Aaron Harrison and his teammates hold up their trophy after an NCAA Midwest Regional final college basketball tournament game against Michigan Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Indianapolis. Kentucky won 75-72 to advance to the Final Four. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison and his teammates hold up their trophy after an NCAA Midwest Regional final college basketball tournament game against Michigan Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Indianapolis. Kentucky won 75-72 to advance to the Final Four. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

By LARRY VAUGHT

INDIANAPOLIS — John Calipari “had to accept” the process of putting a freshman dominated team together just like his players did — and that took him time just like it did them.

But now UK is headed to a third Final Four in four years under Calipari with a chance to win a second national title in three years.

“I started reading what everybody was writing.  I’m thinking: This is going to be easy,” said Calipari Sunday.

“This was very difficult for all of us.  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, at times selfishness.  And now I became a little mean because we had to get it changed.
And the other thing I kept telling them:  You’ve gotta fail fast, which means go play and don’t be afraid to make mistakes so we can see what we have to do.

“But at the end of the day, like I try to do with all my teams, you could see this team is empowered right now.  It’s their team.  It’s not my team.  And I’m just there to maybe call a timeout to settle them down, to pick them up, to sit guys out when they’re not doing what they need to do for their team.  That’s my job right now.

“Their job is to go play and have a ball playing, and that’s what they’re doing right now.”

Michigan's Caris LeVert (23) watches as Kentucky's Julius Randle (30) shoots during the second half of an NCAA Midwest Regional final college basketball tournament game Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Michigan’s Caris LeVert (23) watches as Kentucky’s Julius Randle (30) shoots during the second half of an NCAA Midwest Regional final college basketball tournament game Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

By LARRY VAUGHT

INDIANAPOLIS — The end of Sunday’s dramatic win over Michigan was a bit bittersweet for Julius Randle.

The Kentucky freshman obviously was glad his team beat Michigan 75-72 to earn a Final Four berth in Dallas, but while many teammates were celebrating with parents and family members, Randle couldn’t hug his mom. She had to leave in the second half when UK was four points behind to get back to work Monday.

Before the game, she had told him to get the Cats to Dallas, his hometown.

I’m coming home to my mom.  We get to play in the Final Four in my hometown,” Randle said. “And the biggest thing is it’s not about that. We just gotta take it one game at a time.

“And I’m just happy and proud of all my teammates.  And it will be a great experience for us.”

video courtesy Kentucky Wildcats TV

Kentucky's Marcus Lee dunks in front of Michigan's Derrick Walton Jr. during the first half of an NCAA Midwest Regional final college basketball tournament game Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kentucky’s Marcus Lee dunks in front of Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr. during the first half of an NCAA Midwest Regional final college basketball tournament game Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

By KEITH TAYLOR, Winchester Sun

INDIANAPOLIS — Marcus Lee waited his turn and turned on.

The Kentucky freshman forward took advantage of his opportunity Sunday with 10 points and eight rebounds to lead help Kentucky to a 75-72 win over Michigan in the Midwest Region finals at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Lee, seldom used during the regular season, played a big role in leading the Wildcats to their third Final Four in four years and provided an inside presence in the absence of Willie Cauley-Stein, who injured his ankle in Kentucky’s 74-69 triumph over Louisville Friday night.

Coach just told me to always be ready,” Lee said. “So I just tried to stay ready, no matter what the time was and contribute to the team.”

Lee scored played just one minute in the win over the Cardinals but his performance against the Wolverines earned him a spot on the all-tournament team, along with Aaron Harrison and Julius Randle, named the Most Outstanding Player. Prior to Lee’s breakout against the Wolverines, Lee had scored 45 points in his previous 22 appearances.

Most of Lee’s contributions came in the first half. Lee scored six points in an an 8-3 run after Michigan built an eight-point lead in the first half and added another key bucket during a 15-5 spree by the Wildcats, allowing the Wildcats to rally from a 10-point deficit late in the first half. The spurt was part of a momentous momentum switch, leading to Kentucky’s impressive second-half performance.

“This feels great,” Lee said. “It’s just a great feeling.”

Kentucky coach John Calipari, who joked that he hasn’t been wrong since “1978” envisioned Lee having a “big day” in the team’s biggest game of the year. He even predicted that “everyone in the world would be talking about” Lee in the midst of adversity after losing Cauley-Stein to an undisclosed injury.

I know he had it in him,” Calipari said.

Although his coach was confident, Lee had other things on his mind and didn’t share the same vision was his coach.

My dream was totally different,” Lee said. “I dreamed about food (Saturday) night.”

Michigan coach John Beilein said the Wolverines “had very little” on Lee on the scouting report, but came away impressed with his athleticism.

He does one thing really, really well,” Beilein said. “He plays well above the rim. You can see the size disadvantage was obvious out there.”

Although a star in high school, Lee has been standing in the shadows of the team’s other freshman stars in his first season with the Wildcats. Lee was part of the team’s starting rotation early before an “illness” slowed down his progression. Prior to getting behind in the team’s rotation, Lee scored a career-high 17 points in a win over UNC-Wilmington on Nov. 18.

He started at the beginning of our year,” Calipari said. “He was a starter. He got sick and it kind of set him back, then Dakari and Willie went crazy, both of them playing so good. That’s what happened more than anything else.”

Lee wasn’t discouraged by his dwindling contributions and cheered on his teamamates throughout the process.

Spending this time with my family and my brothers is not challenging at all,” Lee said. “Once you see that glare in your brother’s eyes when they’re playing hard and winning games, you can’t be mad about it at all.”

Dakari Johnson, who split time in the post with Lee in the absence of Cauley-Stein, although somewhat surprised by Lee’s outing, Johnson knew a breakthrough was looming.”

We all knew he was capable and he just took advantage of his opportunity,” Johnson said. “I didn’t see this coming, but I am so happy for him.”

So was Calipari.

I’m proud of you, kid,” the Kentucky coach.

Photos by the Associated Press All rights reserved.

Jon Hood photo by Victoria Graff,

Jon Hood photo by Victoria Graff,

INDIANAPOLIS — During his five years at Kentucky, Jon Hood has made his share of UK-Louisville memories. However, one still stands out to him from his first game as a freshman in John Calipari’s first season at UK.

“As far as rivalry goes, everybody talks about the elbow that DeMarcus (Cousins) threw at Jared Swopshire (in the 2010 game). The almost fight right after the tip when Reginald Delk wouldn’t smack Eric Bledsoe’s hand was probably better because we had to take Eric out one play in because he was ready to kill Reginald Delk. That was my freshman year and I was like, ‘OK, here we go. That is what this is about,’” said Hood here Thursday as the rivals get set to play again Friday night in the NCAA Midwest Region semifinals.

Hood was redshirting during the 2012 Final Four when UK beat Louisville and then knocked off Kansas to win the national title in New Orleans.

“We had a whole week so everybody could hype the game and could overanalyze everything. Now it is like, ‘They are playing again. Here we go,’” Hood said. “This should not be a Sweet Sixteen game. This should be an Elite Eight or Final Four game. We shouldn’t be where we are (seeding wise) and they shouldn’t be where they are. In my mind, probably the two most under seeded teams in the tournament. But you can’t gripe about it now. You have to play the game.”

Hood says there would be no special satisfaction for him knowing a win would end Louisville’s NCAA run.

“We just want to get back to the Final Four. Both teams are so much better than when we played before,” Hood said. “I don’t root against teams. If it is a good game, I am going to watch. I am a basketball junkie. There has been a ton of beat Louisville chants and a lot of tweets back no matter what I put out saying beat Louisville. Everybody says we have nothing to lose. We are not favored. But we definitely have got something to lose, too. We are not playing with house money. We are still growing and improving. We do not want to stop playing.”

Calipari doesn’t want Hood’s career to end yet, either.

“I can’t begin to tell you how much he’s grown. From a young man that felt overwhelmed — think about it, he played against 17 NBA players in his time.  Seventeen. And they tried to kill him,” Calipari said. “He had to go against them. It’s not like he was sitting on the side.  He was playing against John Wall and Bledsoe. And we tell stories, I said, Jon, am I lying? Like I tell these guys a story about how they were.  Jon, is that?  Yes.

“But the second thing I want to tell you, he went from overwhelmed to a little angry to one of the greatest kids I’ve ever coached, that understands, is playing with joy, which is what we try to teach. You can’t have the weight of the world on you. That when he goes in he’s not afraid to play. And he says, ‘The light went on, Coach.’ He said, ‘I went from hating every one of you, including you, to now understanding and I love every bit of this.’

“He would make a great coach if that’s what he chooses. Right now he’s coaching. I can’t remember what game it was. We were playing against a zone and he looked at me and comes down, says, ‘Coach, the lob is there.’ So the next time out I said, ‘The lob is there.’ We throw the lob, dunk, and I went down and high‑fived him.

“He graduated.  He’s working on postgraduate stuff.  He’s got people lined up to give him jobs if that’s what he chooses to do. But that’s what you want. That’s why I wish I had guys four to five years. But it’s not my rule. It’s not my rule. It’s not what I want. But I’m not going to hold a kid back. Just like Jon Hood, I want to do right by him. I want to do right by John Wall, and Anthony Davis, you want to do right by those kids.”

Freshman teammates appreciate what Hood has done for them this year — whether they leave for the NBA or not.

“I guess he is like a coach. He’s kind of the old man on the team. But he’s definitely somebody we can look forward to for advice. He’s played, seen every kind of team that’s been through here with coach Cal,” Julius Randle said. “So whenever we have a question about anything or struggling with anything, about basketball, school, anything, he’s definitely somebody we can go to for advice and appreciate it.”

“Hood really is kind of a coach, really. He doesn’t like it when we call him that. But he really helps all of us out, and he’s seen a lot. He knows every position, every play, where everybody’s supposed to be,” Aaron Harrison said. “He’s really intense at practice and stuff because he wants to win just like the rest of us.”

My first couple of weeks here during practice and stuff I didn’t really know anything. And Hood, he’s always, like, helping me out with everything and showing me where I’m supposed to be, helped me out with the drills and stuff,” James Young said.

Hood is just glad the the Cats finally started playing like he thought they would and avoided a repeat of last year’s NIT season.

“There is always that clicking period like I have been saying all year and you never know when it is going to happen. You never know when it is going to come, how it is going to be,” Hood said. “We had a few times in the year we thought that it was going to click and it just didn’t. The SEC Tournament, it finally did and they understood and now we’ve got Andrew (Harrison) playing well, Aaron zoned in, Julius playing great and dominating people down on the block. Just playing well.

“It didn’t click last year and that is the thing everybody was scared of. I really wasn’t going to let that happen. I was going to start screaming at people if something did not happen very quick because I did not want to go back to that tournament (NIT). I didn’t want to wind up in Robert Morris playing in front of 3,000 people again, something nobody should ever want to do. It finally did click, I’m happy it did and here we are playing well.”

He’s not worried about his teammates reverting back against Louisville, either.

“No concern. We have got demonstrated performance and that is what guys needed to see,” he said.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Senior Jon Hood was selected to the 16th annual Southeastern Conference Community Service Team it was announced by the league office on Monday. It is the first such honor of the Madisonville, Ky., native’s career.

In a continuing effort to recognize the accomplishments of student-athletes beyond the field of competition, the SEC once again highlighted a Community Service Team for men’s basketball for the 2013-14 season.

Hood has given countless hours for the community since his arrival at Kentucky. He constantly spends spare time visiting children at the UK Children’s Hospital and befriends children in need or who have terminal illnesses.

The senior guard has volunteered for God’s Pantry multiple times, volunteered for Hoops for Haiti. He’s spent time with Samaritan’s Feet and as a Campton Elementary school volunteer. During his time in Lexington, he has helped work clothing drives and the Hurricane Sandy Telethon with other teammates. Furthermore, he’s a mainstay at UK men’s basketball camps serving as a counselor and mentor to young players.

This marks the 16th year for the SEC Community Service Team for men’s basketball as well as for women’s basketball. All 21 league-sponsored sports have had a Community Service Team since 2004.

Hood is a 2013 graduate of the University of Kentucky and is on track to complete a second degree this May. He’s appeared in more than 60 games in his career and was a member of the 2012 National Championship squad.

photo by Victoria Graff, all rights reserved.

photo by Victoria Graff, all rights reserved.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky’s game at Florida Saturday is not a postseason contest, but it might have a postseason atmosphere and is a good chance for seniors Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood to stress to younger teammates what games the rest  of the season will be like.

So what can Hood and Polson tell them?

“Me and Hoodie, we haven’t played that much in tournament times at all but we’ve been there and we know what it’s like. It’s win or go home. Pretty much it’s just going to be getting in their ears and just telling them that you can’t let up at all once the tournament starts. If you let up, it’s over,” Polson said.

Will teammates listen?

“I think they do. I think really respect us,” Polson said. “They know we’ve been here for a while now and I hope they think we know what we’re talking about. So I think they do respect it and they listen to us.”

Click on the photo of Jon Hood to watch a video of him talking about shooting.

Click on the photo of Jon Hood to watch a video of him talking about shooting.

John Calipari was a lot happier during the Alabama game Tuesday than he was on Saturday when he was ejected from the loss at South Carolina. His players noticed, too.

“That’s just the type of person he is. He’s real loud and animated, but I guess wanted to see we would react to him just being quiet,” freshman center Dakari Johnson said. “And he did a good job just calling plays for us and making it player-driven. We were out there by ourselves, and it was kind of weird at first, but I think throughout the game we kind of adapted to it.”

Calipari said during Tuesday’s postgame press conference that his team was “rattled” by consecutive losses — something that didn’t happen his first three years at Kentucky.

“I’ve only lost two games in a row other than this year one time in my career and that was last year,” UK senior Jon Hood said.  “One time since I’ve been here. I think all of us were a little rattled to a certain degree. We just had to rediscover, redefine what we were and we did that to an extent tonight and now we got to move forward.”

How does a team redefine?

“Go play. That’s the thing, go play. Players are going to play. Coaches are going to coach. Officials are going to officiate. You can’t get all boggled up with the officials and how they’re calling the call or how the coach is on you, whatever. We’re 18-year-old men and above. I’m 22. We know how to play basketball at this point. Just go to go play,” Hood said.

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