Cats' talent takes them to Final Four


INDIANAPOLIS -- It was a reverse choke hold, but Marcus Lee could still breathe.

That's because it was an endearing gesture, not an expression of violence during Kentucky's  75-72 win over Michigan at Lucas Oil Stadium in the Elite Eight -- a victory capped by  Aaron Harrison's 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds to go.

Alex Poythress snatched freshman Marcus Lee (10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 15 minutes) by the neck sometime in the second half after another big play extended the previously-anonymous-outside-of-Lexington forward's incredulous streak of ridiculousness that helped the program grab a slot in the Final Four in North Texas, where it will face Wisconsin on Saturday.

"Just natural reaction," Poythress said about the bear hug he gave Lee. "I'm just happy for him. Emotions get the best of you out there."

To most of us, Lee emerged from the abyss.

He'd averaged 5.7 MPG and 2.0 PPG prior to Sunday night. But his stat line against Michigan said, "Tim Duncan."

A Kentucky reserve is another team's starter -- star, really. John Calipari will compete in his third Final Four in four years because he could reach for Lee, a 6-foot-9 forward with a Sequoia's wingspan and the  No. 25 ranking in the 2013 class by RecruitingNation, when he needed someone to help in the post because  Willie Cauley-Stein was unavailable with to a foot injury. When John Beilein -- who had earned a slot in the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season, this time without big man Mitch McGary's services -- needed a boost inside, he called on Max Bielfeldt (85 minutes all season).

It's just different.

In the preseason, Kentucky had more talent than everyone else. And that was enough to justify the No. 1 preseason ranking that the Wildcats possessed. At the end of the Midwest Region's finale -- the toughest region of them all -- Kentucky just had more talent than everyone else. And that's enough of a factor to call the Wildcats strong contenders or even favorites to win the crown at Cowboys Stadium, now that this group has finally jelled.

"It's a process," Calipari said. "Every year, it's a process. Some guys get it quicker than others. It took these guys a little longer, and it took me a little longer to figure them out."

After the game, the new celebrity Lee took pictures with Kentucky supporters, high-fived assistant coach Orlando Antigua and then, he spoke to a group of reporters.

He had a piece of the net that he'd just snipped tucked into his Final Four hat. He smacked on a piece of gum.

He smiled and he discussed his dreams.

"This feels great," he said. "It's just a great feeling. Not at all [did I dream of this]. My dream was totally different. I dreamt about food last night."

In 2014, we're blessed with a variety of tools that allow us to understand elements of the game that were more difficult to capture before engineers and inventors turned our cell phones, tablets and laptops into data tanks. We can dissect games and plays in ways that weren't foreseeable a decade ago. We have Ken Pomeroy and Synergy. We have Jeff Sagarin, the RPI and ESPN's BPI.

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