Another one-and-done for UK ... in NIT
If you were looking for the most entertaining way for this lost Kentucky basketball season to end, it may have happened Tuesday night.
Despite being a No. 1 seed, Kentucky wasn’t able to play at home for Tuesday night’s NIT opener against No. 8 seed Robert Morris – a former junior college that we wouldn’t exactly call an NBA factory. And wouldn’t you know it, Robert Morris won, in a game so bursting with fun plot wrinkles that it must have made Robert Morris himself – signer of the Declaration of Independence – proud of his country.
Why was Kentucky on the road? Because Rupp Arena was booked this week for – yes – the NCAA tournament. Lexington is hosting a set of second- and third-round games this weekend, and it apparently takes more than 48 hours to turn around an arena from Kentucky blue to NCAA corporate. A second venue – Memorial Coliseum, where the women's team plays – was considered, but Kentucky officials said they did not have adequate staffing.
And so the Wildcats – one of the first four teams to miss out on the NCAA tournament, by most projections – ended up on the road to face the Colonials in an overcrowded gym with a fan base going bonkers for a home game that was probably a little more important to them than, say, that Jan. 26 clash against Mount St. Mary’s.
This is sad and funny all at the same time, for several reasons. Here’s one:
Kentucky home games averaged 23,099 fans. In 15 home games this season, Robert Morris had a combined attendance of 15,692— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 19, 2013
It was certainly a lackluster effort from a Nerlens Noel-less Kentucky team that was only a 4.5-point favorite and probably couldn’t have cared less after seeing its defense of a national championship go up in tremendous smoke this season. Calipari himself seemed to have no problem walking into the home of the Northeastern Conference regular-season champions:
If we had to play on the road, I'm glad it was Robert Morris because I knew what it would do for the program.— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) March 18, 2013
The feelings of altruism apparently didn’t stop there. Kentucky, of course, lost – 59-57. It was the type of game that was a thriller only because it was close.
The game featured a few highlights, including an absurd flagrant foul committed against Kentucky’s Archie Goodwin. Up four with 3:41 to go, Robert Morris’ unfortunately named Lucky Jones took a full-on swing at Goodwin’s head. The Wildcats hit the free throws and got a bucket on the ensuing possession to tie the score at 53. Here's the clip of the foul:
But if there’s one adage in college basketball, it’s that you don’t poke the Robert Morris Colonials. Head coach Andrew Toole – at 32, the sixth youngest coach in Division-I – and his team went on a commanding 6-4 run to secure the win.
Is now a good time to add that Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals – arch-rivals to Kentucky – are the marquee team headed to Kentucky’s home court this weekend for the NCAA tournament?
And if you still want more knives to twist, there’s the fact that Calipari grew up in Moon Township, Pa., where Robert Morris is located, and went to college at Clarion, less than a two-hour drive away, where he looked like this, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Such a bizarre and strangely fitting end to a season that began with Kentucky celebrating a title and reloading with the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class. Expected to compete again, the Wildcats struggled from the start and lost all hope when Noel went down with an injury in a February loss to Florida.
Let’s all now sit back and wait for the Calipari rumor mill to go crazy.
Wikipedia had its requisite fun, as well:
We’ll close with happier times for the Wildcats: