On Saturday, they overcame a 13-point deficit against Ohio State for their latest escape act. Before that in the tournament, they won close ones against Purdue, North Carolina State and North Carolina. They were comeback kids in the regular season, as well — a season that began with low expectations for a roster that got hit hard by graduation and other departures, then fell to 7-3 after an ugly, unexpected home loss to Davidson.
"I was a little frustrated because I thought that we were underachieving, underperforming," Self said. "I thought we were a stale team. I thought we were slow. I thought we didn't play with great energy. I thought the things we had to do to be successful, we weren't committing to doing them."
Somewhere in that mess, however, he saw the potential.
Much of it shined through thanks to the development of All-American Thomas Robinson, known for his first two years in college as a role player with NBA skills. He was allowed to blossom when he got regular playing time this season and is averaging 17.7 points and 11.7 rebounds a game. He was the only unanimous AP All-American and was in the conversation, along with Davis, in most of the player-of-the-year voting.
"We know how good Thomas Robinson is," Calipari said. "We all up here know. We went against him in New York. He is as good as they get. He's a vicious competitor, great around a rim, expanded his game."
These teams met in November at Madison Square Garden, a 75-65 Kentucky victory in the second game of the season. There wasn't much conversation about that one Sunday.
More noteworthy were all the historical aspects of this game.
Basketball, of course, was invented by James Naismith, who later went on to establish the KU basketball program in 1898.
Adolph Rupp grew up in Kansas and learned the game under Naismith and the next KU coach, Phog Allen, then moved to Kentucky. Over four decades, "the man in the brown suit" won 876 games and four NCAA championships.
So many iconic names have followed at both places: Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Brown, Danny Manning at KU; Dan Issel, Rick Pitino at Kentucky.
Come Monday night, somebody else could get their name up in the rafters at Allen Fieldhouse or Rupp Arena.
"I dreamed about it as soon as I saw the brackets," Self said. "I did look. I said, 'How cool would it be to play Kentucky in the finals?' You guys know better than me, but when do you have the two winningest programs in the history of ball playing each other? I don't know when. From a historic standpoint, I think that's really cool.'"
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