Final Four notes: Sitting out 'heartbreaking' for Cauley-Stein

jtipton@herald-leader.comApril 4, 2014 

ARLINGTON, Texas — Like Moses seeing but not entering the Promised Land, Willie Cauley-Stein might be fated to experience the Final Four merely as a spectator.

His return from an ankle injury seemed problematic at best Friday as Cauley-Stein moved oh-so-slowly through the UK locker room to speak to reporters.

"It's the NCAA Tournament," he said. "This is what you come to school for. This is what you work so hard for. To have it taken away from you, it's really heartbreaking.

"You really have to kind of lose yourself in your teammates, and be happy for what they're accomplishing and just enjoy the ride."

Cauley-Stein has not played since limping off the court in the first half of Kentucky's victory over Louisville last weekend in Indianapolis. He said he still does not know exactly what injury he sustained. He said he believed he originally hurt the ankle against Kansas State in UK's opening NCAA Tournament game.

"Just played the rest of that weekend," he said, "and practiced. Went into the Louisville game still hurting. The whole week I was just babying it."

Cauley-Stein said he favored the ankle during the week between games in St. Louis and Indianapolis.

"In the game (against Louisville), I just forgot about it," he said. "I tried to (play) normally. I heard this pop."

Cauley-Stein moved around with the assistance of crutches in Indianapolis. He was seen wearing a protective boot at the Final Four. He wore practice gear Thursday, but he said he did not work out.

"Nah," he said. "I just watched. I just stood there and watched."

Coach John Calipari has noted how Kentucky could use Cauley-Stein's versatility on defense against Wisconsin 7-footer Frank Kaminsky on Saturday night. Kaminsky, the Most Outstanding Player in the West Region, has been productive around the basket and from three-point range.

Cauley-Stein tried to view missing the Wisconsin game as a personal positive.

"The kid could torch me," he said. "(Being injured) could be a blessing in disguise."

But Cauley-Stein did not sound lucky. He refused to rule himself out of the game.

"Don't count me out yet," he said. "... I'm still figuring out whether I want to give it a try or not.

"I mean, there's always a possibility. It's kind of up to me and my family whether I want to give it a try or not."

'Insane venue'

Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky termed AT&T Stadium impractical as a Final Four setting.

"It kind of feels like we're outside ... ," he said. "It's an insane venue. I think it's too big, honestly."

A moment later, Kaminsky added, "It's almost overkill, how big it is. I can't even see the fourth deck. My vision isn't that great."

Kaminsky prefers basketball arenas or gyms.

"It's more personable," he said. "I'm the kind of person that when people are screaming, I want to hear what they're saying. I think it's funny."

Medical report

Marcus Lee noted how Calipari has endured noticeable pain, which will require hip surgery after the season.

"He's gotten beaten up just as much as we have," Lee said. "He jokes around about it. But he doesn't burden us with it. Any time he misses his half-court shot, he'll blame his hip."

Calipari has not complained to the players, Lee said. "He'll never show it in practice or anything. He's a strong guy."

Lee, who came to UK with the idea of adding bulk, said he lost seven pounds when he caught the flu at the start of the season. Then he dropped another seven pounds in December because of what he called a "full body cramp."

'Wonderful'

Ernie Johnson, who will be the studio host for TBS' coverage of the semifinal games, noted the parity. Connecticut and Kentucky, a 7- and 8-seed going into the tournament, could be playing in Monday's championship game.

"So it's a wide-open, wonderful Final Four," he said.

Johnson said two of his picks made it to the Final Four: Florida and Wisconsin. He missed on Virginia and Louisville.

His pick to win the championship: Florida.

"I love Billy Donovan," he said of the Gators' coach. "I love the defense they play. When you get into people on the defensive end, you're in every game."

Malone honored

The NCAA honored UK reserve Sam Malone with its Elite 89 Award, which goes to the athlete with the highest grade-point average among those participating in a championship event.

Malone, who is majoring in marketing, carries a 3.73 GPA. That's the highest GPA among players in the Final Four.

"It's a great honor," he said.

Malone noted how he received the award from NCAA President Mark Emmert with former U.S. President George W. Bush in attendance.

"An unbelievable thing I'll treasure for the rest of my life," he said.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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