March 28, 2012

Previous experience at Final Four could help Cats

They've been here before. They've been through the routine and they know what to expect.

Three Wildcats who were major contributors on last year's team, which lost in the Final Four in Houston, are back this year. Having that experience could make a difference when the Wildcats arrive in New Orleans to prepare for Friday's game against Louisville.

"It could probably help," senior guard Darius Miller said. "We've experienced it before. We know how it's going to be. You have to do a good job of managing your time, especially when you rest. Other than that, it just comes down to basketball."

Miller, who had four points on 1-7 shooting in the 56-55 loss to Connecticut last year, is the oldest of the bunch. Sophomore Doron Lamb had 13 points on 5-10 shooting, including 3-5 from three-point range. Sophomore Terrence Jones had 11 points, 15 rebounds and four steals in the loss.

UK head coach John Calipari said he'll talk to the team about last year's Final Four and revisit why the Cats struggled in the loss. He'll also use the returning players to help younger ones learn how to handle the day-to-day demands of a trip to the Final Four.

A year later, the loss to UConn still resonates in the thoughts of his players.

"It was tough, last year, losing to UConn in the Final Four by one point," Lamb said. "We know we messed up on defense. They got backdoor a couple times and Kemba made a couple shots. But things happen like that, so we can't worry about last year. We made it back to the Final Four so we just have to try and win the whole thing this year."

There will be some changes from a year ago. Kentucky is the only team advancing to a Final Four after playing in a large stadium (the Georgia Dome) rather than a normal arena. Large stadiums can sometimes pose issue for teams when shooting. The Wildcats shot 33.9 percent in the loss to Connecticut.

Calipari has decided to increase security around his team to help eliminate distractions. The players will be put on a floor of the hotel by themselves, and the area will be off limits to everyone else, including friends and family.

He's hoping to change what he saw on the court as well. Calipari said he could tell in the first five minutes of the loss to the Huskies that something was off about his team.

"I said, 'We've got some guys (bug eyes) that weren't the same,'" Calipari said. "That's OK. First time for those guys and now it's the second time, they'll be fine. It's how are they going to teach these (freshman) watch the landmines."

The loss in Houston hasn't been forgotten by the players, either.

"It's been lingering in the back of our mind all year," Miller said. "We wanted to get back here and we have. Now we just have to finish it out."

Lamb said the team was headed to the Final Four with some unfinished business after falling short in 2011. While many of the Wildcats' key players weren't on that team, the loss has still been a driving force for many of the players.

"I think it has for the guys who were here last year," Miller said. "We know how if feels to lose, especially when you're so close. We don't want to experience it again."

Miller still thinks about the loss, but he tries not to dwell on it. Now, he no longer has to think about missing out on a championship last year.

"I've moved past it," Miller said. "I have another opportunity to get a championship this year. That's all I'm focused on."

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