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ARLINGTON, Texas — As the golf cart turned the corner, Julius Randle looked up for a moment. He was facing backward, which put the scene on the flatscreen TV squarely in his view: A Connecticut player, scissors in hand, cutting another strand from the net. Randle quickly looked down again, and covered his eyes with both hands.

And a few moments later, sitting in a corner of a very quiet locker room, he struggled to keep his composure. After a 60-54 loss, the question wasn't necessary, and neither was the answer. After a 60-54 loss, the Kentucky freshman fought back tears to say:

"It's extremely hard. It hurts. It hurts."

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The NBA? Win or lose Monday night, it was going to be the next question, for Randle and all of the other Kiddie Cats. After the loss, the answer was the same from each. No one wanted to talk about "one-and-done" (or as their coach, John Calipari, would rather we all euphemistically call it, "succeed and proceed"). That's mostly because they'd expected, as Randle put it during interviews on Sunday, to be talking about whether they were "won and done – like, 'We won and now we're done.'"

Instead, a veteran bunch of Huskies made the biggest plays Monday. Kentucky's late-season run ended with a clang, a barrage of missed free throws and other opportunities. The Wildcats' five freshman starters faltered and finally couldn't find a way to finish. Afterward, the idea that their short college careers were, well, finished wasn't something they wanted to discuss.

"I'm sure nobody in this locker room is thinking about that right now," said Andrew Harrison, one of seven freshmen and one sophomore who played. "We're just focused on this game. It hurts. We just don't want to talk about (what comes next)."

Insisting the response wasn't coordinated, Harrison was echoed, almost word for word, by several teammates. Aaron Harrison, Andrew's twin brother, said they haven't talked about it during the season.

"We're kids," he said. "We talk about video games – and girls."

Monday night, they also talked about what they had accomplished. As the regular season drew to a close, Kentucky was seen as an underachieving, dysfunctional bunch. They were swept by Arkansas and lost at woeful South Carolina. A year after an almost completely different roster of freshman stars flamed out in the first round of the NIT, people pointed to these kiddie Cats – ranked No. 1 in the preseason in both the AP and the USA TODAY Sports Coaches polls – as evidence that Calipari's one-and-done approach (sorry: succeed-and-proceed) was a failure.

Then something clicked in the postseason. And in the NCAA Tournament, they kept winning, close game after close game after close game over higher-seeded opponents. Suddenly, Calipari's philosophy was validated.

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"I'm speechless," Andrew Harrison said. "No one could do what we did as a team and individuals and still be standing. It's a brotherhood. It's just ridiculous."

Added his brother Aaron: "We became a great team before America's eyes."

And then they were done. Calipari said in the next few days and weeks, he'll discuss the future with each player.

"We'll see," he said. "I have no idea because I haven't talked to them and none of us have talked about that. We were playing to win the national championship. But now that the season's over, it is about the players. It's no longer about the program. It's no longer about the team. … Now it's about them. And we'll sit down with each of them and they'll make the decisions for themselves."

A mass exodus is likely. Randle is considered a certain lottery pick. James Young might be, as well. The Harrison twins and center Dakari Johnson are potential first-rounders. What comes next?

"I'm not sure," Randle said. "It's hard to think about now. I'm just hurting from this loss."

But what if they stayed together? In another corner of the locker room, Willie Cauley-Stein was wondering just that.

On this team, the sophomore 7-footer qualifies as a savvy veteran. It's hard to quantify what his absence Monday because of a bad ankle meant. He's a defensive force. And if nothing else, his "energy and passion," would have been helpful, because as he said, "it spreads to everybody else."

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A year ago, after that disappointing season, Cauley-Stein thought about leaving early. Though he was a raw offensive project, he was projected as a first-round pick. But Cauley-Stein said then, and reiterated Monday night, that he "loved school, loved the fan base, loved the community – why not stay?" But also, he said he talked with Alex Poythress, another freshman at the time, and told him: "If you stay, I'm staying. If you go, I'm gonna go with you."

Both stayed. And they were better as sophomores.

"Your team is just better when you have upperclassmen," Cauley-Stein said. "Like me and Alex came back, we made our team better because we've been there. We know how the college game works."

He said he still has plenty to prove at the college level, and much improvement to make on the offensive end. But Cauley-Stein didn't shy away from talking about the factors in the decision he and his younger teammates face.

"There are so many things going through my head," he said. Someone asked if that included "millions of dollars," and he nodded. "Yeah, millions of dollars," he said.

And what if the Wildcats stayed together for another year or so?

"It would be ridiculous," Cauley-Stein said.

KENTUCKY'S ELITE FRESHMAN CLASS

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