INDIANAPOLIS — It seems safe to assume neither Dakari Johnson nor Marcus Lee played as much as they'd like this season. But entering Kentucky's biggest game of the season, fate shoves both freshmen to center stage.
Johnson played a career-high 31 minutes and equaled a personal best 15 points in UK's victory over Louisville Friday in the Midwest Region semifinals. With the Cats set to play Michigan Sunday for the chance to advance to the Final Four, he acknowledged being discouraged earlier this season.
"It was tough at first," he said. "Just not getting the minutes at first. That was on me. I wasn't listening to what the coaching staff needed me to do."
One of six McDonald's All-Americans in UK's freshman class, Johnson found it difficult to get on the floor and then show what he thought he could do.
"You kind of call it selfishness," he said. "I wasn't happy not getting the ball. Not really paying attention to what I really need to be doing."
A meeting with UK Coach John Calipari reminded Johnson to concentrate on defense and rebounding rather than scoring.
"It's just tough coming from when you get the ball all the time to not getting the ball," he said. "I sat with Coach Cal. He told me the things I needed to do. If I do that, I'll find success."
Lee, whose one minute against Louisville marked his only NCAA Tournament appearance so far, pronounced himself ready to contribute.
"I'm always in the mind of the game," he said. "... It's not like I haven't been playing basketball. I've been playing basketball my whole life, so I'm just going to go out and do what I do every night."
While thrilling victories, games against Wichita State and Louisville in the last two rounds had to tax the Cats.
"Everybody says that game was the best game ever played," Calipari said of UK's victory over Wichita State last Sunday. "And this game (against U of L) was also a classic.
"And we're, like, we're so tired."
UK players noted that they didn't get back to their hotel until 2 a.m. Saturday. Mercifully, Calipari ordered an 11 a.m. wake-up call.
When asked about Michigan early Saturday after noon, Andrew Harrison smiled. "If they tried to tell us something (about Michigan), we wouldn't comprehend it," he said.
Jarrod Polson, the epitome of wholesomeness, was among players subjected to a mandatory drug test after the UK-U of L game.
When a reporter playfully asked if he passed, Polson smiled and said, "I think I'm good for the rest of the season."
Victories over Wichita State and Louisville gave UK players a growing sense of being destiny's darlings.
"It does feel like the team of destiny the further you make it," Polson said. "We've just been fortunate. Things clicked. Guys making big shots."
Of the wave of momentum, Polson said, "We're just trying to ride it."
In case a referee needs any help, Andrew Harrison has a knack for contorting his body and/or frowning to sell the notion he's been fouled. He drew a third foul on U of L's Montrezl Harrell late in the first half.
"I don't want to seem like I flop or anything like that," he said with a slight smile.
But, Harrison added a moment later, he was willing to "help" the referees notice that Harrell charged.
"I try to make it pretty obvious when he lowered his shoulder," Harrison said. "I was happy he called it because I was probably going to get dunked on if he didn't."
No team with an all-freshman starting lineup has reached the Final Four since Michigan in 1993. The Fab 5 beat UK in the national semifinals before losing to North Carolina in the title game (Chris Webber called a timeout the Wolverines did not have).
Not that UK players were keen to make history.
"Nah, not really," James Young said. "I'm just going to treat it like another game."
When asked what he knew about the Fab Five, Young said, "I know a little bit about it. I know they're all freshmen and stuff like that. I don't even know if they won it or not. Did they win it?"
A reporter shook his head from side to side, to which Young said, "No? OK."
Young was born in 1995.
"That's a media thing," Michigan Coach John Beilein said of UK's possible link to the Fab Five.
Beilein lamented the attention afforded freshmen.
"I wish we'd all just embrace the kid that's a grinder for four years instead of making this huge thing about freshman stars," he said. "Let's reward the kid that really works hard just as much as the freshman stars."
Beilein had a one-word answer when asked if injured big man Mitch McGary might play: "No."
McGary, a 6-10 sophomore, averaged 7.5 points and 6.3 rebounds for Michigan's Final Four team last season. He has not played since undergoing back surgery on Jan. 7.
"I'd love to play," McGary said Thursday, "but right now, I'm not playing."
Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony and Tracy Wolfson will call the game for CBS.