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Kentucky Wildcats

video courtesy Kentucky Wildcats TV

Video courtesy Kentucky Wildcats TV

Vaught’s  note: With UK Media Day set for today and Kentucky, UK at the SEC Media Day Wednesday and Big Blue Madness Friday, it’s not to early to let Richard “Professor” Cheeks unveil his preseason forecast.

By RICHARD CHEEKS

PRE-SEASON FORECAST

INTRODUCTION:

The 2012-13 Kentucky basketball season ended just as this fearless forecaster suggested it would, with Kentucky’s eighth national championship, with only two losses (not the forecast three) scattered along the path to glory. Coach Calipari’s first three teams fell one win short of a final four in 2010, one win shy of the Championship game in 2012, and carried the big prize back to Lexington in 2012. Coach Calipari is spreading the word, wide and far, of the shared sacrifice that the 2011-12 Wildcats displayed on their way to the immortal recognition of the Big Blue Nation.

However, the wheels came off the Big Blue Express in 2012-13

  • When the most dependable returning player from the Championship team turns out to be a former walk on, Jarrod Polson;

  • When the recruiting efforts failed to catch a prize point guard to replace Teague;

  • When the highly touted freshman class did not grow into men in the course of 2 to 4 weeks as previous groups had done; and

  • When the team’s marquee freshman player ended his college career laying on the court at the base of a goal standard in the team’s loss at Florida.

 

These factors kept the defending NCAA Tournament Champions from even a cameo appearance in the 2013 big dance and denied them an opportunity to defend their title. The NIT shipped the team off to Pennsylvania where their season ended with a loss to Robert Morris.

Clearly, neither Coach Calipari nor the Big Blue Nation want a repeat of 2012-13, and both hunger for a return to the dominance they enjoyed in 2011-2012. That team’s freshman class included the eventual #1 and #2 draft picks in the 2012 NBA draft. That team included two sophomores who held over from the year before, each of whom earned NBA draft spots in June of 2012. That team included one senior who had paid his dues, learned to play the game the way Coach Calipari taught him, and led the youngsters by filling the role of a leader, with maturity as his ally.

So, how does Coach Calipari recapture the magic of 2012 while leaving the bitterness of 2013 in the rear view mirror? He will try by repeating the 2012 formula of success. This team’s freshman class is very talented, and very deep. Rick Pitino has said this is the strongest UK freshman class in the last 20 year (which spans the classes that propelled his UK teams to 3 final fours, a runner up, and a championship in the mid 90s. Other have ventured to say that this freshman class is the strongest ever in college basketball. This team has two sophomores who have held over from the year before, each of whom will earn NBA draft spots in June of 2014. This team includes two seniors who had paid their dues, learned to play the game the way Coach Calipari taught them, and can provide the senior leadership that includes one NCAA Championship ring on each of their fingers.

Coach has spoken of his emerging teams with a candor that has defied the skeptics. In 2009-10, he spoke of a team that had so much to learn, that would loses some games in the process, and even though that team managed to capture victory from the jaws of defeat, Coach Calipari’s public face always counted them as losses when he spoke. In 2010-11, despite the bevy of 1 and 2 point road losses, Coach Calipari spoke of championships, and a team that would be ready at season’s end. In 2011-12, Coach Calipari saw their rare and special character early, and spoke of his team as the team to beat, and they were. Last year, Coach was cautious in his words about the season’s prospects. He knew he had a point guard that was not from the mold that would produce greatness, and he saw his yearlings having more trouble making the transition to the college game. That is why he joked so frequently about the Big Blue Expectations, e.g. “We expect you to win another Championship,” of course.

Listen to Coach Calipari as he approached the 2013-14 season. He speaks of chasing greatness. He speaks the unspeakable, of an undefeated championship season. He speaks of pressure as a positive, not a negative that many want it to be. He speaks of alpha males and the leadership that will bring to the floor. Odds are that one year ago, Coach Calipari knew he was working to establish the foundation for 2013-14 to make another run at a title, and if delivered, UK’s ninth.

THE ROSTER:

As always, my blue tinted view ahead for the 2013-14 basketball season is standard operating procedure. I make no apologies for my unabashed optimism for Coach John Calipari’s fifth UK team. I have listened to Coach’s words during this off-season, and I believe it is fair to conclude that Coach Calipari is also very optimistic about this team.

Three Octobers ago, I projected a 31-7 record, with the season ending with an Elite 8 loss. As Calipari’s second season turned out, the final record was 29-9 with the season ending with a disappointing Final Four loss. Coach Calipari has been clear that in his opinion, that team was playing better basketball at the end than anyone else on the scene. Two Octobers ago, I projected a 37-3 record, and a National Championship. Many who read that projection said that the team may be able to win it all, but three losses were too few. The team did win it all, and only sustained two losses (38-2) along the way. Last October, the giddiness of top 5 pre-season rankings, the back drop that 2010, 2011, and 2012 had created, and the lofty praise given to another #1 recruiting class, led to a 35-5 projected record. However, the 2013 team lost 5 of their last 9 games after Noel’s injury after a 17-7 record to that point.

In 2013-14, Coach Calipari will again demonstrate that he is among the best in the game at molding his teams into national contenders and final four participants. Coach Calipar is further motivated today by the sting of disappointment that marked the 2012-13 season.

Some of Coach’s critics even look for reasons for his recruiting success. All that this Coach has done since arriving in Lexington is produce the #1 recruiting classes in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2013. Many view the 2012 recruiting class as only the second best in the land.

Just as it has after each of Coach Calipari’s first three years, UK again suffered deep roster loses from last year’s team. Gone are seniors Twany Beckham and Julius Mays. However, the Big Blue Nation also bid farewell and best wishes to Sophomores Kyle Wiltjer (transfer to Gonzaga) and Ryan Harrow (transfer to Georgia State). The Cats also felt the pride of the Nation when Freshmen Archie Goodwin and Nerlens Noel both earn first round draft selections in the NBA draft this past June. These post 2012-13 losses represents 6 of the 10 scholarship players, and of the returning four, Jarrod Polson, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Alex Poythress logged significant minutes. Jon Hood only played 143 minutes in an injury-plagued season. Therefore, this team starts from a “nucleus” of two seasoned sophomores and two seniors.

Coach Calipari has again transformed the roster over the course of the last 7 months. This transformation has again placed the Wildcats at the head of the class with respect to discussions about another national championship, with pre-season polls ranking the Cats in the top 3, with Michigan State, Duke, and Kansas also getting great ink in the pre-season opinion polls. The four scholarship players that return are accompanied by 3 returning walk on players, Sam Malone, Brian Long, and Tod Lanter. Coach Calipari has filled the rest of the roster with 9 freshmen, one of whom is a walk on, E. J. Floreal. The headliners in the incoming freshman class are Julius Randle, Aaron Harrison, and Andrew Harrison. However, freshmen Marcus Lee, James Young, and Dakari Johnson are not chopped liver. Furthermore, Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins are a pair of Kentuckians who will contribute over the course of their careers at UK, which most believe will span multiple years.

The prediction and projection of 2013-14 season reflect the continuing excitement that still swirls through the Big Blue Nation. Many critics will undoubtedly comment that these predictions are overly exuberant, and I plead guilty to this exuberance! If this team fails to “measure up” to these expectations, the world will not end, and I will acknowledge that errors of my way, but until then, this is my story, and I am sticking to it.

THE SCHEDULE:

The University of Kentucky Basketball Schedule for the 2013-13 season includes 13 non-conference and 18 SEC games for the regular season. The Cats open at Rupp Arena for a pair of tune-up games against UNC Ashville and Northern Kentucky before their trip to Chicago for one of the most significant November matchups of this coming season against Michigan State. The Cats return to Rupp for four (4) home games against Robert Morris, Texas-Arlington, Cleveland State, and Eastern Michigan before hitting the road again for a pair of neutral court games against Providence and Baylor. The non-conference portion of the schedule continues with a home game against Boise State before the only non-conference road game, this year at North Carolina. The Cats close the non-conference schedule with home games against Belmont and arch rival Louisville.

The SEC schedule begins at Rupp against Mississippi State before a two game road swing through Vanderbilt and Arkansas. The remainder of the UK road schedule includes stops at LSU, Missouri, Mississippi State, Auburn, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Florida in what should be the toughest SEC match up of this season in the last game of the regular season. The 2014 SEC schedule has the Cats playing home-away series against Mississippi State, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi, and Florida.

This team will get perhaps its most difficult tests of the non-conference season when it ventures out of Rupp to take on Michigan State and Baylor on neutral courts, and North Carolina in the Dean Dome. The only home game during the non-conference season that will not see UK as solid favorites will be when Louisville (defending champions) come to Rupp on December 28, 2013. In the SEC, the road trips to Missouri, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, LSU, and Florida will be the most likely games to hand the Cats conference losses. If the Cats hold serve at Rupp and win the “winnable” SEC road games, the Cats should approach the season ending road game at Florida with a record of 16-1 in the conference and the conference championship and #1 tournament seed locked up.

Calipari’s Cats will enter the SEC Tournament as the team to beat, but the Cats will fend off all challenges and win another SEC regular season and SEC Post Season Tournament championships in 2014. In the NCAA Tournament, the Cats should secure a #1 seed, and advance to the Championship Game, and given the Cats’ record in Championship games, I believe the UK Wildcats will bring home the hardware for the 9th time.

 

PREDICTED 2013-14 RECORD:

Non-Conference: 12-1

 

SEC: 16-2

 

SEC Tournament: 3-0 [SEC Tournament Champions]

 

NCAA Tournament: 6-0 (NCAA Tournament Champions)

 

Final Record: 37-3

 

Jarrod Polson photo courtesy Clay Jackson. All rights reserved.

Jarrod Polson photo courtesy Clay Jackson. All rights reserved.

By CODY PORTER, cporter@jessaminejournal.com

Just shy of three seasons ago, a walk-on at Kentucky had his 15 seconds of bliss greeted by more than 23,000 screaming fans instructing him to “SHOOT!”

Now, senior Jarrod Polson is seen in a different light. The Wilmore native’s fan-base tutelage has since been directed to those walking in similar shoes as walk-ons.

Since coming on to the Lexington campus, Polson, who was relatively unknown on the high-school basketball scene, has won a national championship and played alongside 15 current NBA players.

For 2013-14, UK basketball head coach John Calipari has once again reloaded, as fans are accustomed to him doing. Could they be better than prior Calipari teams? Expert minds say yes. But one known variable for the five projected pro prospects is that a one-time walk-on will be their guidance for the upcoming season.

While he’s had many dream worthy experiences, the biggest hurdle in understanding who Jarrod Polson is, is understanding that he’s not all that different from you or I.

“It’s kind of weird because as a kid growing up I thought of an NBA player as ‘woah’ — if I saw one I would freak out,” Polson said. “But now I’ve been playing against them in practice all of the time, and just seeing them go to the NBA, it’s kind of different. You just see them as buddies and not really a superstar.”

Polson grew up playing basketball in his backyard with his dad and older brothers, Eric and Wes. Having picked up a ball, which began shooting at 18 months, George Polson said his son Jarrod, despite being much younger, was typically a consensus top pick for pickup game selections.

“He’s always had a self passion for it,” George said. “I have video of him at 18 months shooting basketball; not throwing, but shooting.”

Always having had his favorites, such as Michael Jordan or Keith Bogans, George said Jarrod’s biggest influence for developing his game was as simple as having to go up against more experienced competition.

“He was just able to sharpen (his skills) against much older people,” George said. “It got to the point when they were choosing sides, they would choose him over these teenagers because he was better them.”

A 51-point game against Lexington Catholic on Jan. 24, 2009 marked the beginning of Polson’s trek to from West Jessamine High School to UK.

“He was always more of a team player,” George said. “He could’ve scored 35, 40 (point per game) if he wanted to, but he always deferred to his teammates. His high-school coach (Robert Hammonds) once asked, ‘What buttons can I push to get him to shoot. I cannot get him to shoot. He needs to takeover,’”

Polson could’ve played the AAU circuit to gain notoriety, but George said Jarrod was adamantly against that route.

“I want to be a normal kid; I want my summers off,” George said Jarrod often told he and his mother,

George said Jarrod always believed he could play college basketball at some level without having to risking living out his high-school experience.

“I remember Tonya Knight, Brandon’s mom, asked me up in Canada that first year. She asked me where Jarrod played AAU, and I’m like, ‘He didn’t,’” George said. “She gave me that dumbfounded look, astonished that Jarrod never played AAU and still ended up at UK.”

As is expected for a walk-on, Jarrod’s production at UK was limited until last season. His first two years resulted in a combined 28 games of action, five less than in 2012-13.

Although last year’s team paled by comparison of Calipari’s prior teams, Jarrod’s increase in minutes was a culmination of the seasoning, experience and growth he had undertaken since 2010.

Jarrod said while the likes of Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague and Ryan Harrow have thanked him for the battles he brought them, they too have helped mold him to what he is entering his senior year.

“I think that definitely helped them in the games and on to their future careers,” Jarrod said. “That’s really a big goal of mine, and always has been, is just to make whoever I’m going against better and they’ve made me a lot better, and I’m really thankful for them, too.”

That same devotion to work is what Jarrod said he believes got him into the situation he’s currently in as a Wildcat.

“I’m just going to work my hardest,” Jarrod said. “I have the last three years and I think that’s what the coaches, the fans and the players really appreciate … So I’m just going to try to leave the way I came in — trying to work hard.”

Hard work payed off in the Cats’ opening game of last season. On the grand scale of the newly opened Barclays Center, the kid from a town populated with a little over 5,000 residents enamored New York. Leading the Terrapin by one point, Jarrod was fouled with 7.7 seconds left.

Meanwhile, back in their Jessamine County home, George and Chrisi Polson were seemingly a nervous wreck, and shortly in the homes of many Twitter users around the globe. Two foul shots later by Jarrod and the Wildcats had a 72-69 lead, ultimately the final score, while he had what was then a career-high 10 points.

“The photo (on Twitter of Polson’s parents) actually puts it in perspective, but I was so nervous and overly excited,” George said. “It was one of those things where I couldn’t believe what was going on. Not that I doubted Jarrod’s ability, just that he got a chance to finally show what he was capable of, and he performed on a national stage like that.”

The moment that took George out of his chair and onto his knees was captured by Jarrod’s sister Alyse. Three days later in Atlanta for UK’s game against Duke, George and Chrisi were being approached by countless fans letting them know how much they enjoyed seeing their moment captured.

“We looked over during a timeout and she (Alyse) was giggling. I was like, ‘What are you laughing at?’ She goes, ‘That picture I took has already got over a hundred hits,’ and I just did that little slow look like, ‘What picture? What are you talking about?’”

 

Jalen Whitlow picks up yardage with his legs in Saturday's Blue-White game. (Victoria Graff photo)

Jalen Whitlow drops back to pass in Saturday’s Blue-White game. (Victoria Graff photo)

By ASHLEY SCOBY

Jalen Whitlow is not your average Joe.

At least that’s what he – and fans – have come to believe after spring practice concluded with the Blue-White scrimmage Saturday. Whitlow completed 17 of 28 passes for 182 yards and 2 touchdowns to show the coaching staff and fans that he is right in the thick of the three-man quarterback race.

After a freshman campaign in which he started seven games and contributed 1,007 yards and 6 touchdowns (passing and rushing), Whitlow has a gained a quiet self-confidence.

“You’ve got to carry yourself with confidence,” he said. “Players carry themselves with confidence. You would never see Peyton Manning carrying himself like a regular Joe.”

The biggest difference between last season and the beginning of spring practice for Whitlow has been “maturity.” Nearing the completion of his second semester of college, he thinks he has grown up a lot, which has, in turn, helped him on the football field.

“Last fall I was an 18-year-old pretty much trying to grasp everything,” Whitlow said. “Everything’s moving so fast but now the college life is not a big thing anymore. Just coming in here and just focusing on football and school and just being grounded is the biggest thing.”

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown thought Whitlow has used his freshman year experience to turn into the solid quarterback that has emerged during the spring.

“I think he’s learning how to prepare,” Brown said. “Getting thrown to the fire, it does one of two things for you. It really damages you or you find out what it takes and you come back stronger than ever and I think that’s what happened.”

All of that maturity and experience helped Whitlow turn in a solid spring game performance, especially compared to the other quarterbacks. Max Smith, the original starter last season before going down with an injury, was 11-18 for 108 yards and a touchdown, while Whitlow’s classmate Patrick Towles went 6-14 for 65 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

Whitlow also rushed for 49 yards Saturday, showing that his speed and ability to get out of the pocket will also be factors in the quarterback race.

Running, however, isn’t something Whitlow particularly wants to do.

“I don’t like running,” he said. “I like passing plays. I want to throw the ball.”

Brown said Whitlow has “come along” as a passer so far in the spring, but that his athleticism is something the coaches will look at, if Whitlow were to be named the starter.

“At Troy…when we had a kid that was athletic, we ran the ball with the quarterback,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out who we are. What are our pieces to the puzzle? And then we’ll form a package around them.”

Forming that package is something that might be far away, but head coach Mark Stoops knows what Whitlow could potentially bring to the table.

“Jalen did a nice job,” he said. “He has that dimension to run the football and pull it down when something’s not there and create… I was impressed with the way Jalen played.”

Even if Whitlow is not named the starter come fall camp, UK knows it doesn’t just have an average Joe athlete wearing number 13.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has not been happy with everything about spring practice, but he has no trouble pinpointing what he has liked best.

“I’m pleased with their overall attitude. Again, I keep on saying it: It’s not where we want it to be, but I see the improvement. I see them wanting to do things right,” the UK coach said. “I see their attitude being good, and their effort. That’s what I’m most pleased about. We have good players. They need to be led and they need to be put in position to be successful and we need to improve in all areas, but I see them wanting to do that.”

He says players and coaches have learned to be more comfortable with each other during spring practice.

“Again, it’s not a finished product and probably never will be. We’re always working on those relationships, but it is getting better,” Stoops said.

Photos by Clay Jackson, and property of Schurz Communications, Inc., and vaughtsviews.com. All rights reserved; images may not be reprinted in print or online without permission of the owners. Reprinted images must be attributed to vaughtsviews.com and linked to the original site.

Kentucky forward Alex Poythress fouls Robert Morris forward Lucky Jones (22) during the second half of a first-round NIT college basketball game on Tuesday, March 19, 2013, in Coraopolis, Pa. Robert Morris won 59-57.(AP Photo/Don Wright)

Kentucky forward Alex Poythress fouls Robert Morris forward Lucky Jones (22) during the second half of a first-round NIT college basketball game on Tuesday, March 19, 2013, in Coraopolis, Pa. Robert Morris won 59-57.(AP Photo/Don Wright)

By Keith Taylor, The Winchester Sun

MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Alex Poythress was just as “shocked” as the rest of Big Blue Nation following Kentucky’s 59-57 loss to Robert Morris in the opening round of the National Invitational Tournament Tuesday night.

“We just couldn’t do it at the end,” the Kentucky freshman said. “It’s real disappointing.”

It was a similar road loss for the Wildcats, who failed to gain traction in games played away from home during most of the season. Kentucky, the top seed on the NIT, won just four games in eight attempts in hostile environments, inducing an 0-3 mark against non-conference foes.

“It was a tough environment and they had a great crowd,” Poythress said. “They were incredible and cheering them on. It was just one of those away environments where (they) were rooting against you. It’s incredibly tough to play on the road. You just don’t realize it’s not a home game. You may have  fans, but to the other team, it’s their home game. It’s tough playing in the road. It was a a tough game (Tuesday night) because it was so compact and so close to the floor. It was a tough environment.”

From the beginning, the Wildcats had problems overcoming and overflow crowd of more than 3,500 and found themselves in a hole after the hosts scored the first 10 points of the game. That lead blossomed to as many as 13 points in the second half before the Wildcats battled back to make things interesting down the stretch. The overall environment also was an issue for the Cats down the stretch.

“We just couldn’t capitalize (down the stretch),” he said.

Poythress said the Wildcats had trouble matching Robert Morris’ intensity throughout most of the contest.

“They came out and strong, they came out hitting every shot and came out pumped,” he said. “They came out wanting to win the game. They had a nice crowd and everything, but got us down and we played catch up the rest of the game.”

Poythress, who scored just six points in 27 minutes, said the Cats came in with a “good game plan” and one that he thought was enough to put the Wildcats back over the top.

“To come out on the losing end of this game is really disappointing,” Poythress said. “It’s just frustrating.”

Poythress said the Wildcats had a renewed focus following a 64-48 loss to Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament last Friday in Nashville. The team failed to make the NCAA Tournament field and was denied an opportunity to defend the NCAA title, but Poythress didn’t mind continuing the postseason in the NIT in a season that failed to measure up to last year’s standard.

“I felt like we were ready and I feel like we are ready every game,” he said. “The coaches do a great job of preparing us, but we us players just didn’t execute. It comes down to x’s and o’s and for us, just playing ball, really. Coach (Calipari) is going to help us (and put us in position to win).”

Looking back on the season, Poythress said capitalizing on “on the little things” would have made a difference for a team that failed to live up to last year’s expectations.

“We just had mental lapses and we just had to focus,” he said. “It was tough to follow last year’s team. If you think about it, they were one of the best basketball teams (in history). The had six pros, almost had 40 wins and won a national championship. It’s tough to follow that. But there are high expectations when you come here. People expect you to win and you can’t let them down. We had great potential, but we just didn’t know how to put it all together.”

He added that the team wasn’t lacking in the leadership department.

“We had great leadership in Julius (Mays),” he said. “He was always there from Day 1. We just didn’t follow him. It was kind of our fault.”

Robert Morris guard Velton Jones (2) fouls Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein (15) during the first half of an NIT college basketball game on Tuesday, March 19, 2013, in Coraopolis, Pa. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

Robert Morris guard Velton Jones (2) fouls Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein (15) during the first half of an NIT college basketball game on Tuesday, March 19, 2013, in Coraopolis, Pa. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer

MOON, Pa. (AP) –  Mike McFadden hit two free throws with 8.7 seconds remaining and Robert Morris shocked defending national champion Kentucky 59-57 in the opening round of the NIT on Tuesday night.

The Wildcats decided not to call timeout after the second free throw but Kyle Wiltjer’s 3-pointer before the buzzer bounced harmlessly off the rim, sending hundreds of students onto the court as Robert Morris ruined Kentucky coach John Calipari’s homecoming.

Lucky Jones led the Colonials (24-10) with 15 points but was ejected for a flagrant foul on Archie Goodwin with 3:41 to play. Kentucky, which trailed by 13 in the second half, managed to tie it twice but could never grab the lead.

Goodwin scored 18 points for the Wildcats but couldn’t stop Kentucky’s disappointing season come to a stunning end.

The victory was validation for the Colonials, who won the Northeastern Conference regular season title with ease but were upset in the conference tournament. The loss relegated the school to the NIT, but it hardly felt like a letdown in perhaps the biggest win in the program’s history.

“I know they were disappointed not to get to NCAA tournament. This is a memory they’ll get for rest of their lives.” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said in the giddy aftermath.

Robert Morris will advance to the second round, while Kentucky’s injury-marred underachieving year came to a merciful end. The Wildcats were never the same after center Nerlens Noel went down with a devastating knee injury. Kentucky dropped six of its final 10 games, the last one coming in a somewhat rickety gym in the Pittsburgh suburbs.

The Wildcats let the Colonials race to an early 10-0 lead, only led briefly at the end of the first half and appeared disinterested to spoil the return of a hometown kid made good.

Calipari was born in Pittsburgh, grew up a couple of miles from the Robert Morris campus and played guard at Moon High a couple of 3-pointers away. He returned to Western Pennyslvania to finish up his college playing at Clarion and served as an assistant coach at Pittsburgh in the 1980s before hitting the big-time.

The homecoming, however, was less happy than hostile.

Fans scooped up the 3,500 tickets in a matter of hours on Monday then lined up outside in the blustery March wind well before tipoff of arguably the biggest game in school history. Robert Morris averaged barely 1,000 fans during its 15 home games, yet there were scalpers asking for $75 to get in the door.

Though disappointed in missing the NCAAs, in a way, it may have served as a blessing.

While the NCAAs would have provided Robert Morris with a brief moment in the sun, the NIT gave the school of just over 3,600 undergraduate students an opportunity to host one of college basketball’s big boys on its own turf.

Kentucky earned a top seed in the NIT but was forced to hit the road because Rupp Arena is hosting NCAA games this weekend. Though Calipari warned his team to be ready, the Wildcats hardly looked thrilled to be there, and it showed.

Robert Morris scored the game’s first 10 points while the Wildcats ‚Äî who typically play in front of home crowds in excess of 23,000 ‚Äî stumbled their way through a series of miscues and appeared rattled in a gym with wooden bleachers that swayed underneath the feet of a clamoring student section chanting “Bobby Mo” every chance it could.

Senior Jarrod Polson came off the bench to steady things, and Kentucky recovered to get within 28-27 at the break.

Yet the Colonials never folded, making 8 of 12 shots during one stretch to move back in front 49-36 then holding off a late Kentucky push to send students leaping over tables and onto the floor in a delirious celebration.

KENTUCKY (21-12): Cauley-Stein 4-6 1-4 9, Poythress 3-7 0-0 6, Goodwin 5-8 8-8 18, Harrow 2-3 0-0 5, Mays 1-5 2-2 5, Hood 1-2 0-0 2, Polson 4-5 2-4 10, Wiltjer 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 21-40 13-18 57.

ROBERT MORRIS (24-10): L. Jones 4-5 6-6 15, Johnson 5-11 2-2 14, McFadden 3-4 2-2 8, Williams 2-4 0-0 6, Myers-Pate 3-7 0-0 6, V. Jones 3-7 2-2 8, Appolon 0-1 0-0 0, Anderson 0-5 2-2 2, Hawkins 0-0 0-0 0, Armstrong 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-44 14-14 59.

Halftime_Robert Morris 28-27. 3-Point Goals_Kentucky 2-10 (Harrow 1-2, Mays 1-4, Hood 0-1, Poythress 0-1, Wiltjer 0-2), Robert Morris 5-16 (Williams 2-4, Johnson 2-4, L. Jones 1-2, Appolon 0-1, V. Jones 0-1, Myers-Pate 0-1, Anderson 0-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Kentucky 25 (Goodwin 7), Robert Morris 19 (Johnson 5). Assists_Kentucky 7 (Polson 3), Robert Morris 10 (V. Jones 5). Total Fouls_Kentucky 17, Robert Morris 20. A_3,444.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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