HOUSTON – So much for VCU and Connecticut being worn out by their heavy workloads.
UConn won five games in five nights to claim the Big East title, while Virginia Commonwealth is the first team to win five games to get to the Final Four. Yet neither has shown any ill effects from playing so many games in such short spans.
"It's all mental," VCU guard Brandon Rozzell said. "If you believe you're tired, you are tired. Also, I don't think we're done winning games."
Besides, it's not as if either team hasn't gotten some downtime.
UConn's run through the Big East tournament was three weeks ago, an eternity in the sports world. The Rams' toughest stretch came two weeks ago, when it won three games in five nights in two different cities. VCU beat Southern California in the "First Four" on Wednesday night, in Dayton, Ohio, then flew to Chicago, arriving in the wee hours of Thursday morning. It then beat Georgetown and Purdue on Friday and Sunday nights.
"When the game starts, leading up to the game, you catch that adrenaline," UConn freshman Jeremy Lamb said. "You don't really feel tired, you don't really feel hurt or anything like that."
Especially now, when there's a national title at stake.
"They talk about us being young kids, got endless energy," said Matt Howard, whose Butler team plays VCU in the first national semifinal Saturday night. "What you've seen with UConn and what we've seen with VCU, it doesn't seem like they're slowing down at all."
POOLE'S DAY?: This isn't quite the way Kentucky freshman guard Stacey Poole Jr., envisioned his first Final Four.
Yet Poole isn't complaining, even if he's become an afterthought. He came to the program last fall part of another ballyhooed recruiting class that included Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb.
Yet, where his three classmates have soared, Poole's career has stalled. He's played in just 16 games this season — one less than walk-on Jarrod Polson — and hasn't stepped on the floor during the NCAA tournament.
"The season was a little frustrating," he said. "It's always going to be when you're one of the top players in the country coming out of high school and you're not playing. But I didn't get down. I didn't sulk and pout. I just kept my head up high and enjoyed my teammates."
Playing time could be just as difficult to come by next season with another heralded recruiting class on the way, but Poole says he's going to stay at Kentucky.
"I've got questions, am I transferring?" he said. "Stuff like that. I love this program. I love my team and the coaching staff. I'm in the Final Four, I'm loving it right now. I'm happy."
So after hearing Smart had been out on the practice floor diving for a loose ball with his team, Calhoun compared himself to the father in the old TV show "My Three Sons."
"I feel like Fred MacMurray with Shaka being the brilliant and very smart, but cool, fighter," Calhoun said. "Brad hasn't said the wrong word, ever. He's your middle child. Never said a wrong word. I said, 'Brad, lighten up a little bit. I screw up every two minutes. Would you just screw up once?'"
"Then we have our problem older child who is also brilliant and a terrific, terrific basketball coach. As Fred MacMurray would say, 'My Three Sons.'"
MENTOR IN THE HOUSE: Shaka Smart had just finished a drill that had him diving on the floor during VCU's practice at Reliant Stadium when he jogged off the court and onto press row.
There, he greeted Bill Brown, his first coach at Kenyon College, the man who gave him his first assistant coaching position and the man he has leaned on for life advice since.
Brown, the winningest coach at California University of Pennsylvania, was in town for meetings and already planned to stay for the games before Smart's Rams earned their berth.
"What a bonus to have an opportunity to see him play," Brown said.
He said he takes great joy in seeing one of his pupils reach such a high level.
"Well, you know, I'm very proud," he said. "This is a huge stage for him, but he's very deserving. He's been like a son to me and we've interacted throughout the years, talking weekly just to make sure that if there's anything that comes up in life, we can discuss it."
Brown said he and Smart planned to spend more time together Friday night.
"He asked me today if I had any eligibility left, and I said, 'You know, I'm a year away, and next year, I'll be two years away,'" he said, "so I'm going in the wrong direction."
FEELING BETTER: Butler's Shawn Vanzant is glad that the woman he calls mom was healthy enough to make the trip to Houston for the Final Four.
Lisa Litton, who became his legal guardian while he was in high school, has breast cancer and hasn't been feeling very well lately.
Vanzant's biological mother died before he was 2 and his father became too sick with diabetes to take care of him. Litton and her husband took Vanzant in and consider him as much a part of their family as their three biological sons.
"Saw her this morning," Vanzant said Friday. "She was a little sick last week, but she's doing a lot better. Just happy she can make it here and watch me play."
KEMBA TO THE NBA: UConn star guard Kemba Walker hasn't talked much about leaving Storrs for the NBA, saying he'll wait until after the season to make a decision.
So far, most NBA draft experts predict the quick, score-in-bunches junior guard will be a lottery pick and he's expected to graduate this year, so Walker's coach sees no reason why he should give it a try.
"I know where he is in the draft, top 10 someplace," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "He probably needs, if the opportunity presents itself, to go."
INSPIRING STORIES: Paul Schulte was heavily into sports growing up near Ann Arbor, Mich., and when he was paralyzed from the leg down after his 10th birthday, he wanted no part of sports played in wheelchairs.
That changed when he went to practice for the men's basketball team in Ann Arbor.
"When I showed up, I was blown away," Schulte said. "The guys who were playing could do handstands with their wheelchairs attached to them, they hit 3s, they were just as fast as able-bodied players and my stereotype was absolutely smashed."
Now, Schulte wants to help keep smashing those stereotypes.
A two-time Paralympian with the U.S. national team, Schulte is at the Final Four in Houston for the launch of the "Real Life" campaign, designed to recognize the more than 100 million people with disabilities in the United States.
Schulte was part of a wheelchair basketball exhibition on the Final Four court inside Reliant Stadium on Friday morning to promote awareness, and the "Real Life" campaign (www.invacare.com/reallife) will hold a contest for the top three everyday people with inspiring stories, offering $3,000 per individual and $6,000 to the charity of their choice.
"The big push for the campaign is just awareness of individuals going after it, being determined and going after their dreams despite some daunting odds," Schulte said. "We reach as many people as possible, whether or not they're wearing a prosthetic, whether they're in a power chair or have a disability you normally wouldn't recognize, somebody walking around. It's to identify those stories."
AP Sports Writers Nancy Armour, Will Graves, Hank Kurz Jr., John Marshall and Kristie Rieken contributed to this report from Houston.