"We're just marching how we've been marching and nothing changes," UK head coach John Calipari said during Monday's Final Four coaches teleconference. "You're not going to get away from any of that stuff.
"They're in a great frame of mind."
Wichita State, defending national champion Louisville and Michigan, three of the four squads that were in last year's Final Four.
Calipari admits he didn't handle his freshman-dominated team well earlier in the season.
"Bottom line is I screwed this up in a couple different ways," he said. "One, we tweaked some things. I've had all different kinds of point guards, and I've had guys that have been different types of players. I waited probably two months longer than I should have to put the couple things in that changed how we were as a team.
"... The question becomes, when you hear it, ‘Why didn't you do it earlier?' I don't really have a good answer. My only hope would be to say to you maybe they weren't ready to accept it two months ago. Maybe they had to fail more. Maybe they had to understand that you must surrender to your team, you must lose yourself in your team, and you must understand less is more when you're talking about team play."
Better late than never, of course, but it came at a cost to the Cats.
"If they were ready to accept it two months ago, we wouldn't have been an eighth seed playing in the gauntlet that we just played," Calipari said.
Calipari rejects suggestions that his team was a disappointment during the regular season. Even though the Cats lost nine games, including a shocking six in SEC play, they were building toward the ending you see now.
"It's a process," he said. "You can't skip steps. Part of that process is failing fast, sometimes failing often.
"I wish we could have skipped steps in the process. Probably was trying to do that, which is why I did such a poor job early with this team. I was probably trying to skip steps."
In the end, the players – most of them barely old enough to vote – had more patience than the coaches, fans and media following the team.
"They withstood it," Calipari said. "They were under immense fire. They never wavered. They kept believing. They were their brother's keeper. They believed in the leadership. They believed in the staff They believed in the system and the process. It never went away. I never stopped believing in this team or the players on it, and I mean each individual player.
"So that in itself is a great story of how in the world did you guys overcome that? Well, it made us stronger. It made us tougher. It made us harder."
CAULEY-STEIN DOUBTFUL TO PLAY:
Calipari said sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein remains doubtful for the Final Four with his ankle injury.
That doesn't mean he won't be a presence.
"He will be on our bench cheering like crazy," Calipari said. "They told me in the locker room after the Louisville game where he got hurt, right away the doctor told me, I asked him about the injury, all that. He said, I got to stop you before... You cannot believe how much he was cheering for his team in there. He wasn't worried about himself. He was going bonkers."
KEEPING AN EYE ON FUTURE CATS:
The Final Four isn't the only big-time basketball event to be played this week. The annual McDonald's All-American Game will be played on Thursday in Chicago with four UK signees participating.
"We'll watch it," Calipari said. "If I can't watch it, it will be taped. We got four players in it. We got four great, great kids. They're terrific basketball players. But spend some time with them. You're talking about four great, great kids.
"I imagine our team will watch it live because they all played in it. They'll want to see it."
Karl Towns Jr. will play for teh East team, while Devin Booker, Trey Lyles and Tyler Ulis will suit up for the West.