Just two years ago, Robert Morris students bounded down wooden bleachers in happy celebration. Meanwhile, defeated Kentucky slinked out of Moon Township, Pa., which might as well have been the far side of the moon given the game's distance in miles and prestige from the NCAA Tournament.
From that ignominious first-round loss in the 2013 NIT, Kentucky now stands on the cusp of sports history. No matter what happens at the Final Four in Indianapolis, UK represents how quickly and radically fortunes can change in college basketball.
Willie Cauley-Stein is the only Wildcat who played at Robert Morris and will play against Wisconsin on Saturday. He needed no help in understanding the then-and-now contrast. He specifically recalled a promise made two years ago by Coach John Calipari.
"I remember one of his remarks: 'We'll never have a season like this season,'" Cauley-Stein said.
A new aim in recruiting would be to build depth, Cauley-Stein said. When Nerlens Noel tore an anterior cruciate ligament at Florida on Feb. 12, 2013, Kentucky lost its best player. The Cats, who needed walk-ons to practice five-on-five, lost six of the 10 games without Noel.
In the 2015 Final Four, Kentucky can call on eight healthy McDonald's All-Americans, plus Cauley-Stein.
Calipari and his staff not only signed more players; they looked for merciless players, Cauley-Stein said.
"They recruited dogs," he said. "They recruited guys who are going to fight. They recruited guys who have a will to win, and you don't have to teach them the will to win."
Senior Tod Lanter suggested that the loss at Robert Morris precipitated a change in attitude and mind-set. No longer could Kentucky players take success for granted.
"We can't win just because you've got 'Kentucky' across the chest," Lanter said. "We're going to have to work for it."
The loss at Robert Morris was a cautionary tale.
"We realized we don't want to go back in that direction," Lanter said of how the NIT loss affected the UK players. "We want to move forward, and that approach has worked for us."
This season's Kentucky players have set a goal of not going through the motions in practice or games, Lanter said.
"We have the best team," he said. "We've got the best players. If we play to the best of our ability, nobody can beat us. And we just have to expect to play that way and demand that of each other."
Of course, Kentucky had good players in 2013. Kyle Wiltjer, an All-American for Gonzaga this season, missed a potential game-winning three-point shot at the buzzer at Robert Morris.
"Obviously, a very down year for Kentucky," said Craig Coleman, the Robert Morris athletics director. "My recollection is it wasn't so much down in talent as down in chemistry."
Kentucky gave the 59-57 loss at Robert Morris the Leon Trotsky treatment (essentially wiped from the record), but the game resonates at Robert Morris.
Not so much as a financial windfall; the NIT pockets most of the revenue, Coleman said.
"But you can't put a price tag on the exposure," he said. The words "Robert Morris" ranked among the most tweeted phrases in the world for a while, Coleman said. Traffic on the school's website increased exponentially.
"That game has allowed people to really understand more about our program," Robert Morris Coach Andrew Toole said, "and kind of galvanized our campus community, some of our alums and everybody surrounding our basketball program."
A victory over Kentucky became a recruiting tool. "Definitely a great starting point for conversation," Toole said.
As Kentucky soared after the game, so, too, did Robert Morris. The Colonials beat North Florida in a First Four game this year. It was the program's first NCAA Tournament victory since 1983.
Then Robert Morris played competitively against Duke, trailing by only 10 points midway through the second half before losing 85-56.
When it was suggested that Robert Morris could join Kentucky in claiming improvement since the NIT game in 2013, Coleman chuckled.
"I think that's true," he said. "I'm not sure the steepness of our improvement is as great as Kentucky's."