LEXINGTON – After Kentucky’s frantic comeback and narrow escape of Notre Dame in the Midwest Regional final last week, a mad scramble that many of the players described as “desperation,” the Wildcats tried to imagine how they would have felt if a previously perfect season had come to a sudden, screeching halt.Junior Willie Cauley-Stein figured it would’ve laid him as low as the first-round NIT loss at Robert Morris two years earlier, putting a fine point on the pain that would come if Kentucky can’t finish this thing. The Cats had scares before, during the regular season, but a loss in any of those would not have been the end.“Different feeling,” point guard Tyler Ulis said after watching the Fighting Irish miss a winning try at the buzzer. “If we lost, we would be heartbroken right now, in here probably crying, and we don’t want that feeling at all.”No, the Wildcats, who are now 38-0 and just two wins at the Final Four away from recording the first undefeated season at this sport’s top collegiate level in 39 years, do not want that feeling.IU’s perfect ’76 team cheering UKTake 1979 Indiana State and 1991 UNLV’s word for it. They are college basketball’s kings of almost.Since unbeaten Indiana in 1976, those Sycamores and Runnin’ Rebels are the only other teams to enter the Final Four without a loss. Led by Larry Bird, Indiana State got all the way to the NCAA title game with a 33-0 record before falling to Magic Johnson and Michigan State.“To lose the very last game, it stunned us. It stunned all of us,” said Alex Gilbert, the starting center for the Sycamores back then. “We were all sitting on the bench just in disbelief. We didn’t think we could lose. Not like we had this great ego or anything. We just expected to win that game. It was hard to comprehend that we had lost. It was a strange thing.”Losing always stings, but even more so when you’ve forgotten how and double that when the first one is also the last. UNLV had a 34-0 record and 45-game winning streak as the defending national champion heading into the 1991 Final Four.UNLV’s Anderson Hunt (12) and unidentified teammates leave the floor after losing to Duke in the NCAA national semi-final game in Indianapolis, March 30, 1991. Duke defeated UNLV by a score of 79-77. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)The Rebels were playing a Duke team they’d demolished by 30 points in the NCAA title game a year earlier. So you’ll have to forgive their foggy memories about what happened next when, in a stunner, they lost the rematch by two points and perfection was once again denied.“I can’t remember anything, because nobody could believe what just happened,” said Evric Gray, a forward on that UNLV team. “There were some tears. It was real quiet. Like, it was so surreal that nobody really said anything.”The shock for those Rebels was in part because they’d pretty well destroyed the competition all year. Their average margin of victory during the regular season was 29 points and only twice — on the road against a top-five Arkansas team and in the NCAA tournament against Georgetown — did an opponent come within single digits.5 ways for UK basketball to stop WisconsinUNLV still won those games by seven and eight points, respectively. So when the Blue Devils were suddenly running stride for stride with the Rebels, “we’d never been in that situation,” Gray remembers. “We were never really tested until the Duke game.”This Kentucky team has been. It survived Ole Miss in overtime and Texas A&M in two overtimes on the road. LSU had a shot in the air at the end that would’ve beaten the Wildcats in Baton Rouge, La. Georgia led UK by nine points with nine minutes to go in Athens, Ga.Some point to those outcomes, and the Notre Dame nail-biter, as proof the Cats can be had. They see it another way.“You have to prove you know how to win tough games to be a great team,” shooting guard Aaron Harrison said. “I think the close calls that we have had this season, they helped us in the last game. I think it’s made us a stronger team going through close games like that, not weaker.”UNLV coach Dave Rice, who was a senior reserve on the ’91 team, agrees. It might’ve been useful for those Rebels to have been pushed once in a while.“Without question, absolutely, it has helped them,” Rice said. “Going through it all before, it’s extremely helpful. I think if they’d lost a game, it would’ve taken the pressure off, but the other side of it is they’ve figured out how not to lose. And if they’re able to finish this, be the only undefeated team ever to go 40-0, it’ll be a phenomenal achievement. That’s legacy stuff.”The thing is, with every step closer to it, the weight of that potentially historic achievement feels a little heavier. Members of both the ’79 Indiana State and ’91 UNLV teams can attest to that.“That’s stuff that lasts forever,” Rice said. “I believe members of your program are aware of that, and it adds to the pressure, and it would make it that much more remarkable if they handle all that and win these next two games.”Sullivan | UK’s success alters Calipari’s imageGilbert said he and many of the Sycamores got fairly deep into their special season before they even really thought about the prospect of running the table.“You don’t pay attention to the number,” he said. “We didn’t realize how big a deal it was until we got to the Final Four. That’s when the reporters started asking you all the questions. So it gets in your head. It’s around now — right now, this week — leading up to that championship game.”Gray said the Rebels started to feel like “a traveling rock band,” and he believes Kentucky is surely experiencing the same. How the Wildcats handle it over the next few days will determine their legacy.Interestingly, Michigan State and Duke, the two teams that ended Indiana State and UNLV’s bids at perfection, are playing in the semifinal opposite UK. Beat Wisconsin on Saturday night and one of those teams will be waiting. The Final Four is also in Indianapolis, where the Blue Devils beat the Rebels.“That’s the crazy part,” Gray said. “If they actually meet, you know that’s going to be a story: Can they do it again?”If it’s the Spartans, Gilbert won’t be able to watch. Magic Johnson is still there, front and center, supporting Michigan State. It turns Gilbert’s stomach. He once rejected free tickets to a Final Four because Magic and the Spartans would be there.“I’d never go watch them play,” Gilbert said. “I just won’t. I just can’t. Can’t let go of that.”If the Wildcats are trying to imagine what a loss now would feel like, there it is.Kyle Tucker can be reached at (502) 582-4361. Follow him on Twitter @KyleTucker_CJ. Play VideoPlayMuteCurrent Time 0:00/Duration Time 0:00Loaded: 0%0:00Progress: 0%0:00 Progress: 0%Stream TypeLIVERemaining Time -0:00 Playback Rate1ChaptersChaptersdescriptions off, selectedDescriptionssubtitles off, selectedSubtitlescaptions settings, opens captions settings dialogcaptions off, selectedCaptionsAudio TrackFullscreenThis is a modal window. The Video Cloud video was not found. Error Code: VIDEO_CLOUD_ERR_VIDEO_NOT_FOUND Kentucky celebrates after defeating Notre Dame to move on to the final four. March 28, 2015Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison looks to pass over Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson during Elite Eight game at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena. March 28, 2015 By Matt Stone, The C-J Session ID: 2020-09-19:e97c6963d0b0a7f79968d368 Player ID: videojs-brightcove-player-732373-4140513251001 OK Close Modal DialogCaption Settings DialogBeginning of dialog window. 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