ARLINGTON, Texas — The only time that Willie Cauley-Stein thinks about what might have been is when he's lying in bed at night.
That's when the Kentucky sophomore starts to lament the ankle injury that has forced him to miss most of the Wildcats' run through the NCAA Tournament. It's those nights — all alone in a hotel room — that have been the hardest.
"It's only tough when ... I really have time to think about the whole situation," Cauley-Stein said Sunday. "Other than that, I really try not to think about it. I'm just out there having fun with them, even though I can't play with them. I still get to enjoy the experience."
His season ended early in the victory over Louisville last week, when he limped off the Lucas Oil Stadium court in Indianapolis and hopped back to the UK locker room. He didn't return to the bench during that game, he sat out the wins over Michigan and Wisconsin, and he's been ruled out for Monday night's title game against UConn.
It certainly wasn't the ending Cauley-Stein envisioned when he decided to return to Lexington for a second season. He knows he can't help his teammates on the court, so he's been trying to lend a hand in other ways.
"I can't really speak to them like I'm a player, because I don't feel like a player anymore," he said. "I kind of speak to them like an older brother. I see stuff that maybe they don't see.
"I think that's kind of my role now: staying in somebody's ear. When you see something, make sure you let them know. It could help them. If they take the advice, cool. That's really all I can do."
He can also cheer on his fellow Wildcats.
Cauley-Stein was so excited after last week's victory over Michigan that he hobbled onto the court and jumped into the celebratory dog pile. He did it again Friday night, this time trying to stay on the perimeter of the scrum.
He's having fun — as much as he can under the circumstances.
And he's still wearing No. 15.
Most injured players sit on the bench in normal clothes, but Cauley-Stein decided to don his UK jersey over his outfit. His reasoning is simple.
"I'm not ready to take it off," he said. "I can't play for the rest of the season, so I want to wear the jersey as much as I can. That's a kind of tribute to our school — I maybe can't play, but I'm still going to wear the jersey with that pride."