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These Wildcats are Unbelievables

Kentuckians have a penchant for giving nicknames to their favorite Kentucky teams.

It started in 1948 with the Fabulous Five. Along came the Fiddlin' Five in 1958. Rupp's Runts captured their hearts in 1966. The Unforgettables emerged in 1992. And then there were the Untouchables from last year's national championship team.

This season?

"Somebody gave me this nickname _ I think it's more the Unbelievables because I don't think I quite believe it," said coach Rick Pitino, who picked up the label from a Danville (Ky.) Advocate-Messenger writer.

It does seem unlikely the Wildcats, who play Minnesota in the semifinals Saturday night in Indianapolis, would be in a position to defend their title.

Four players from last year's team are playing pro ball. Another player was redshirted, and another transferred. Midway through the season, leading scorer Derek Anderson went down with a knee injury.

But Kentucky (34-4) is two games from becoming only the second team since UCLA in 1973 to repeat as champion.

"This team has played a top-five schedule, and being young, I think they've accomplished more than any basketball team I've coached," said Pitino, who has his third Final Four team in five years. "The only one that would rival this team is Providence" in 1987.

Even the players are surprised by how they progressed.

"We've come through it all, and we're in a position now that nobody thought we would be in, especially when Derek went down," guard Cameron Mills said.

"I think when Derek went down, everybody started doubting us," Allen Edwards said. "It's pretty unbelievable. A lot of people didn't think we could do it."

Through the tournament, Pitino has reminded the Wildcats they should play like the defending champions.

"He says, "You're the defending national champs, and until they beat you, you're still going to be that,'

" Scott Padgett said.

Now Kentucky returns to where it opened the season with a 79-71 overtime loss to Clemson.

"The five weeks before that game and right after that game, I thought we were in serious trouble," Pitino said. "I thought it was going to be a .500 season or a little bit better, because we'd come on at the end of the year.

"We were very green and didn't practice well. From that point to this point, I'm very, very pleased. I'm very proud of how the players dedicated themselves to be a great basketball team."