INDIANAPOLIS — Willie Cauley-Stein, always the go-to guy for reporters seeking perspective and insight, likened the sad ending to this Kentucky season to a jolting movie plot twist.
"Where the main character dies and you're like, 'What?! Why did the main character die?'" he said. "And you're like super hurt over the good guy, he ends up dying.
"And that's the end of the movie. No cliffhanger. No nothing. Just: Boom! You're done."
Of course, Kentucky was the main character in this college basketball season (and, arguably, every season dating to the last undefeated national champion, Indiana, in 1975-76). The good guy died, in the survive-and-advance ethos of the NCAA Tournament, against Wisconsin in the Final Four semifinals Saturday night.
After a 71-64 loss ended aspirations of a national championship adorned with an unprecedented 40-0 record, Kentucky players over-reacted. Several said UK not only lost a game but all the good in a team lifespan that can be compared to a monarch butterfly's: Brief but beautiful. Admired one year. Gone the next.
One big difference with Kentucky in this 2014-15 season: There isn't likely to be another monarch butterfly next year ... or the year after ... or the year after.
"It's never going to be duplicated, what we just did," said assistant coach John Robic, a man not given to hyperbole. "If it does, I hope I'm alive to watch it."
When reporters entered the UK locker room near the midnight hour Saturday, they saw players sitting deep inside their lockers, as if there might be a back hatch. No tears. Little enthusiasm for talking about the rest of the movie/NCAA Tournament.
"Just disappointed," Karl-Anthony Towns said of the players' reaction. "And I think that's the way we're all going to feel tonight and feel for the rest of our lives."
But time heals heartache.
"At some point, they're going to get over it and have to move on," Robic said of the grieving all around the room.
"Sometimes," he added, "it's good to feel pain."
Then Robic immediately thought better of this attempt to find a silver lining.
"But not in this case," he said. "They were on a mission for long, long time and fell a little bit short."
The mission began a year earlier — a lifetime in the college careers of many UK players — when Andrew and Aaron Harrison joined Cauley-Stein in deciding to return to UK this season.
With the customary addition of ballyhooed freshmen, UK found itself with the problem of fitting nine McDonald's All-Americans, plus Cauley-Stein, into 200 minutes of playing time per game. Hence, Coach John Calipari called on his knack for innovation and — voilà — the platoon system of substitutions.
The August trip to the Bahamas showed that the players accepted a rotation of five players substituting for five players, accepted less playing time and, maybe most importantly, one another. They made extra passes. They took pride in a collective approach to defense.
"This year was just different," Cauley-Stein said. "Everything just jelled together and everybody knew exactly what they wanted to do. Guys weren't complaining about minutes and all that other stuff. Stats and what-not.
"I just don't believe there will be another team like we are."
Kentucky was a fascinating mix of consistency and inconsistency. Winning the first 38 games — an unprecedented feat in college basketball — suggested mind-dulling precision. But individual players rose and fell on a game-by-game basis, which gave 2014-15 what-will-we-see-tonight serendipity.
Calipari, who masterfully orchestrated the many moving parts, spoke of finding the players who happened to be on the uptick each game, then relied on them.
No transcendent player like, say, Anthony Davis or John Wall, led Kentucky. As Calipari memorably suggested in mid-February, UK was a "pack of wolves."
UK was ravenous. Eleven coaches suffered the most lopsided losses during their current tenures: in chronological order, Grand Canyon, Kansas, Montana State, UT Arlington, Providence, UCLA, Missouri, Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn and West Virginia.
Kentucky never trailed in 14 games. In 11 other games, the largest deficit was three or fewer points. The Cats trailed by double-digits for only three minutes and seven seconds (1:16 against Columbia, 1:51 at Texas A&M).
Kentucky also handled the occasional possession-by-possession test: Ole Miss, at Texas A&M, at Florida, at LSU, at Georgia and, most recently, against Notre Dame in the Midwest Region finals.
Alex Poythress's torn anterior cruciate ligament shook the Cats, but not enough to disrupt the winning.
"It's super hard to go undefeated," Cauley-Stein said. " ... We dodged a bullet (against Notre Dame). It's hard to even get close to where we're at."
A question about what he'd remember about this season caused Devin Booker to sigh. "Oh, everything," he said. "All the ups and downs we've been through."
Then he added, "Mostly ups. ... I know I'll never be part of something like this again."
"It was absolutely remarkable what these kids did and the job coach (Calipari) did," Robic said. "Because it was really hard what these kids did in winning all those games in a row. We took everybody's best shot. And tonight, Wisconsin's shot was a little bit better than us."
Before Selection Sunday, Kentucky dreaded the prospect of Wisconsin as a No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region. The Badgers had the size, the experience and the grit to reduce a game against Kentucky to a dangerous five-minute winner-take-all.
"They're a championship-caliber team," Cauley-Stein said of the Badgers, who can prove that in Monday night's national championship game against Duke.
In this superficial world of indoor fireworks and "Intergnat" message boards, winning championships defines teams.
It can be argued that this Kentucky team moved beyond the win-loss record, as gaudy as 38-1 will look in the record books.
"We're going to be talked about forever," Cauley-Stein said.
Added Robic: "Gave us everything they could. You couldn't ask for more from this group."