INDIANAPOLIS — A piece of net tucked behind his left ear and crutches under both arms, Willie Cauley-Stein couldn't stop smiling.
After injuring himself in the NCAA Tournament's Midwest Regional semifinals, Kentucky's sophomore center didn't get to play in the championship win over Michigan on Sunday, but he tried to do his part from the Cats' bench.
"I was trying to be live as I could on the bench over there, but this is crazy," he said on the court at Lucas Oil Stadium just seconds after Kentucky advanced to the Final Four. "It's a dream come true, and it's not even over yet."
He did his part to celebrate with teammates, too.
"I jumped on one leg," he said. "I just had to improvise; I felt like a pogo stick."
The 7-foot sophomore forward with the bum ankle even did something that probably would upset his UK doctors and trainers: He got in the middle of the Cats' dog pile.
He had to celebrate.
"We're just happy he can share this moment with us," fellow forward Alex Poythress said.
"I guess it was just an adrenaline rush," Poythress said of his teammate's part in the post-game scrum. "Willie wants to be a part of it, it's sad that he's hurting, but he's still a part of this team. We're not going to leave him out. If he wants to jump in the dog pile, he can."
Then like a TV villain, Poythress smiled a sinister smile, adding: "If he wants to run sprints with us this week, he can do that, too."
It's unlikely that Cauley-Stein will be running sprints any time soon. He'll be too busy hanging out with trainers trying to get his injury repaired so he can try to play in the Final Four in Arlington, Texas.
Cauley-Stein, who didn't expound further on the extent of his injury, said he's going to do everything he can to get healthy.
Is there really a chance he can play?
"I really don't know," he said. "I hope so. I really hope so. I'm going to go back to Lexington and get a bunch of treatment, a lot of ice, a lot of (treatment) and maybe, just maybe, this weekend I'll be able to suit up or something."
Guard Jarrod Polson said Cauley-Stein's "foot is really messed up ... he's really hobbling and hurting right now."
But Polson and his other teammates are hopeful that Cauley-Stein be able to come back and be more than just an oversized cheerleader.
The Kentucky forward already is trying to be more than that. He has tried to serve as a chief motivator.
"He's been real vocal, been real vocal," Poythress said. "He's one of our leaders here. He's still trying to help us the best he can."
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader.