A Closer Look: Kentucky

Making its first appearance in the national semifinals in 14 years and just the third time overall, Wisconsin faces off against a Kentucky program making its third trip to the Final Four in four seasons. BadgerNation takes a closer look at the Wildcats.

MADISON - Here's a closer look at Kentucky and Coach John Calipari.

Head Coach John Calipari

One of the most polarizing figures in college basketball, Calipari has found success at every college stop along the way, with a little bit of controversy mixed in.

A former college point guard at UNC Wilmington and Clarion, Calipari got his first college head coaching job with Massachusetts. From 1988 to 1996, Calipari led the Minutemen program to five consecutive Atlantic 10 titles and NCAA tournament appearances, including a berth in the 1996 Final Four that was thanks to Naismith College Player of the Year Marcus Camby. UMass lost in the regional semifinals, and the appearance was later vacated because Camby took money from two sports agents.

After a failed three-year stint coaching in the NBA with the New Jersey Nets, Calipari spent the next nine seasons at Memphis, transforming the Tigers into the powerhouse program in Conference USA. He unofficially won 252 games, posted eight consecutive 20-win seasons, an NCAA record four consecutive 30-win seasons, and eight consecutive postseason bids.

In 2008, Calipari led his 38-win Memphis team to the national championship game, where it lost 75-68 to Kansas in overtime. At the time the team's 38 wins was an NCAA record, but the entire season's record was vacated over a year later to the NCAA invalidating Derrick Rose's SAT score.

Four days after losing to Kansas, Calipari took the Kentucky job and began plucking No.1 recruits as if they grew on trees. In just his second year at Lexington, Calipari guided Kentucky to a Final Four and did himself one better the following season by winning an NCAA record 38-win season and the school's eighth national championship. That led him to become the highest paid coach in college basketball, earning over $5 million annually.

This year is officially Calipari's third Final Four and he is the only head coach to have Final Four appearances vacated at more than one school, although Calipari himself was never personally implicated by the NCAA in either case.

Since 2010, Calipari has seen 12 of his players be drafted in the first round of the NBA draft, mostly after just one or two seasons on campus.

"I wish I had all kids for four or five years … but in the other sense I'm not going to convince a young man that should go chase his dreams to come back for me to win games," said Calipari. "I'm not doing that, but I wish I had them more because I can't tell you how much enjoyment I get from that."

Starting five

Freshman Forward – No. 1: James Young (6-6, 215)

Named Second Team All-SEC and SEC All-Freshman, Young has scored in double figures in 28 games this season, including leading the Wildcats in scoring in eight. He's a talented inside-outside player, as he has made three or more 3-pointers in 15 games and recorded 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in the tournament win over Louisville.

Freshman Guard – No. 2: Aaron Harrison (6-6, 218)

Averaging 17 points per game in the last six tournament games, Harrison is shooting over 40 percent from the 3-point line and over 80 percent from the free-throw line. He was the hero for Kentucky on Saturday, hitting his fourth 3-pointer – this one a deep NBA three that Michigan contested – with 2.3 seconds left to propel the Wildcats to the national semifinals.

Aaron Harrison also notched 15 points with three steals in UK's win over Louisville, including knocking down a 3 with 39 seconds remaining to give the Wildcats a lead it would not relinquish, and scored 19 points, including four threes (4-7), to help UK knock off the Midwest region's top seed in Wichita State.

Named to SEC All-Tournament Team, Aaron Harrison has scored in double figures in 12 of 18 Southeastern Conference contests and 30 of 38 games.

Freshman Guard – No. 6: Andrew Harrison (6-6, 215)

Although shooting only 3-for-12 and committing for turnovers in the regional finals, Andrew Harrison tallied 14 points, five rebounds and seven assists in the win over Louisville and led Kentucky with 20 points against Wichita State.

"The biggest thing we had to help them with is the body language," said Calipari about the twins. "As that changed, they became different players. The second thing was we had to define the roles better, and I did a poor job of that until late in the year."

"They're not young anymore," added Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan. "They're pretty well established, talented. Physically they were more mature than most freshmen to begin with. They're primed right now … We know we're going to have our hands full with the twins."

Averaging over five assists over the last six games, Harrison has also committed 18 turnovers in four NCAA games.

Freshman Forward – No. 30: Julius Randle (6-9, 250)

Named a finalist for John R. Wooden, Oscar Robertson, Wayman Tisdale and Naismith Trophies, not to mention being named a third-team All-American Monday, Randle leads the nation in double-doubles with 24 after posting 15 points and 12 rebounds against Louisville and 16 points and 11 rebounds over Michigan. Randle also registered a double-double against Wichita State and added a career-high six assists.

Named SEC Freshman of the Year, First Team All-SEC, SEC All-Freshman and SEC All-Tournament Team, Randle is averaging over 15 points and 10 rebounds per game, the latter number representing the best individual rebounding average in the conference.

The Dallas native leads Kentucky in numerous categories, including points, field goals made, free throws made, free throw attempts and rebounds.

Freshman Center – No. 44: Dakari Johnson (7-0, 235)

Johnson matched a career high in scoring with 15 points, while adding six rebounds in a season-high 31 minutes over Louisville. Third on the team in field-goal percentage, Johnson went 4-for-5 against Michigan, helping Kentucky shoot 53.4 percent from the field. He hasn't attempted a 3-pointer this season and is shooting 44.9 percent from the line.

Off the Bench

00 Freshman Forward Marcus Lee (6-9, 215) –Despite being on the bench for most of the year because of an early season illness and scoring a total of nine points since the beginning of January, Lee stepped in for Willie Cauley-Stein, and finished with 10 points and eight rebounds. Eight of those points came on put-back dunks that were part of Kentucky's 18 offensive rebounds.

22 Sophomore Forward Alex Polythress (6-8, 239) – Scored six points in the final five minutes of the game to help Kentucky secure the comeback over Louisville. Polythress plays the most minutes off the bench for Kentucky and while he hasn't score in double figures since February 4, he scored in double digits six times over a nine game stretch.

25 Freshman Guard Dominique Hawkins (6-0, 193) – Although averaging less than nine minutes a game, Hawkins played a key defensive role in 15 minutes of action in the Sweet 16 and 11 minutes in the Elite Eight.

"What made me more excited was Dominique Hawkins walking in that game, defending the way he did and changing the rhythm of the game for Michigan," said Calipari.

Ex-Factor

Sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein. Kentucky's block leader with 106 rejections on the season, Calipari said the sophomore is doubtful after he injured his ankle during the first half of the win against Louisville. He did not play in Kentucky's Elite Eight win over Michigan.

Scoring in double figures 10 times, while pulling down 10+ rebounds in eight games, the sophomore was averaging 7.0 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks this season and earned a spot on the SEC All-defensive Team.

"Willie changed most games for us," said Calipari, who said the sophomore likely won't play. "He will be on our bench cheering like crazy."

How they got here

Round of 64: No.8 Kentucky 56, No.9 Kansas State 49 (St. Louis)

Round of 32: No.8 Kentucky 78, No.1 Wichita State 67 (St. Louis)

Round of 16: No.8 Kentucky 74, No.4 Louisville 69 (Indianapolis)

Round of 8: No.8 Kentucky 75, No.2 Michigan 72 (Indianapolis)


Badger Nation Top Stories