At times their growing pains were tortuous to their fans, their coach and themselves.
But the inconsistent Kentucky Kids became men Sunday, beating 2-seed Michigan by draining a deep 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds on the game clock.
75-72. Kentucky. They now join 1-seed Florida to make up half of the Final Four field. Bad conference? Says who?
Kentucky had the harder road to Dallas. Because of the widespread opinion that the SEC was a down league (ranked No. 7 conference by polls) the Cardiac Cats had to beat a 1-seed, a 4-seed and a 2-seed to punch their ticket to Dallas.
And this time there was no Christian Laettner on the floor to spoil Kentucky's hopes to play for a national championship. They are still alive to experience one shining moment.
It was 6-5 guard Aaron Harrison that hit a step-back trey that separated two teams that put on a show worthy of Broadway.
“I knew I had to take the shot,'' Harrison said. “I didn't know how much time was left, but I knew it wasn't much.''
“They hit big shots when they needed to. We did, too,'' said Michigan Coach John Belein. (Harrison) made a shot from deep.''
Kentucky, with another freshman-laden team recruited by Coach John Calipari, used their size advantage to out-rebound Michigan, 35-24. They had 17 stray shots off the offensive glass.
Jordan Morgan was Michigan's only true post player. He was living among the giants.
“They showed more on the offensive glass,'' Morgan said of Kentucky. “They were playing above the rim and either tipped it in or tipped it out.''
It's been so long that Kentucky was chosen No. 1 in the country in preseason polls. They quickly erased that, dropped all the way out of the polls at one point, as inconsistency became their trademark.
Calipari claimed he made a few minor tweaks as the season approached its final games. Whatever, this team caught fire, finishing second to Florida in the SEC Tournament in a game that could have gone either way.
“I just coached the game. They just played,'' Calipari said after the game. “We don't know if it was another classic kind of game, but I'll tell you this. They weren't going away and neither were we. Whoever had the ball last was going to win it.''
Aaron Harrison buried all four of his 3-pointers in the final eight minutes of the game.
All of a sudden Kentucky's embarrassing loss to South Carolina, where Calipari was ejected from the game, seemed months ago. Whatever Calipari did to morph this team into what we saw in the NCAA Tournament, has worked miracles. He should apply for a patent.
Coach Cal might not be the best coach in the college game, but he is hands down the best coach to coach the McDonald's All-Americans coming out of high school with their training wheels on.
This team was not blessed with the talent level of those Kiddie Kats that have hung national championship banners in Rupp Arena. It will be interesting to see who stays and who goes to the NBA Draft.
But they proved they could play whatever roles Calipari chose for them. Michigan's leading scorer, Nik Stauskas, lit Kentucky up for 19 first half points. It was then that Calipari decided not to switch off on Stauskas in the second half.
Instead they put 6-foot freshman Dominique Hawkins on the 6-6 Stauskas and Haskins stuck to him like Super Glue.
Stauskas went one for 7 from the field in the final 20 minutes, missed all three treys and scored only six points off Hawkins.
Next stop is Texas where they join SEC champion Florida to see if one of them can bring home the big hardware.
In a tournament filled with highlight plays and incredible finishes, maybe they are saving the best for last.
Let the Madness continue.
Contact wkrn.com Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at email@example.com