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The UK men’s basketball team reached the 15th Final Four in program history with its win versus Baylor on Sunday.
The 15 Final Four appearances are tied third most all-time, and the Wildcats will be playing for their eight national championship — second most among all NCAA programs — in New Orleans this weekend.
UK will be fighting against some recent history as no team ranked No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll has won the national championship since Duke in 2001. Since UK won the 1978 national championship as the No. 1 team in the final AP poll, just four of the last 34 national champions were ranked No. 1 in the final regular season poll.
Despite that recent history, UK enters the Final Four as the prohibitive favorite and only remaining No. 1 seed.
“Obviously with the Internet, social media networks and all of that stuff you can’t keep anything away from them,” UK head coach John Calipari said of shielding his players from the team’s favorite status during Monday’s Final Four coaches’ teleconference. “They hear everything. They talk to each other. That’s just how it is nowadays.”
UK’s possible opponents in the final four will have plenty of motivation to defeat the Wildcats.
UK has already earned victories against two of the Final Four teams — Louisville and Kansas — this season. The remaining Final Four team, Ohio State, saw its 2010-11 season ended at the hands of the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament.
“Everybody we play is that way, so it’s not as though this is any different than any other game we play,” Calipari said. “They’ll play out of their mind and we know it.”
The 2012 Final Four field is among the most prestigious groups in recent history. The four programs have 49 Final Four appearances and 13 national championships between them.
Among the field, Kansas most recently won the national championship in 2008. UK’s most recent title came in 1998, Louisville’s most recent title came in 1980 and Ohio State’s only title came in 1960.
“I would say it should be outstanding,” Calipari said. “You’re going to see a lot of ridiculous basketball. Whether you’re talking Kansas, Ohio State, Louisville or ourselves, they’ve all had a good season. It’s not best of five or best of seven, it’s one bad one and you go home.”
With players knowing any loss will be their last of the season, it is especially important that UK doesn’t buy into its favorite status, Calipari said.
“The minute you start drinking that poison you die because the other team is jacked up and ready to play,” he said. “Every team we play is the biggest game of the century, I’m going to talk to my grandchildren about this game if we win.
“The reality is it will be won or lost on the basketball court. You can throw talent out the window, everyone is talented now. Yes, we’ve got good players, so does everybody else.”