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Ryan Harrow

By LARRY VAUGHT

Dick Weiss is unique not because of the storied career he’s had covering college basketball, but because he’s one of the few media members who can call both John Calipari and Rick Pitino friends. Both coaches respect him and he often has unique insights into the coaches and their programs at Kentucky and Louisville.

He was the Nike Peach Jam in South Carolina last week when both Calipari and Pitino were there to watch numerous potential recruits play.

Weiss agrees that Kentucky’s NIT first-round loss coupled with Louisville’s national championship last season one year after the Wildcats won the 2012 national title has “revitalized” Calipari and his passion for winning.

“He didn’t like that team last year. He hated that (Ryan) Harrow wasn’t the point guard he needed. He hated sitting on the sidelines in March. He was a victim of no experienced players,” said Weiss. “No one saw Cal in Lexington when Louisville played NCAA games in Rupp Arena.”

Weiss sees Calipari putting his talented recruiting class through the same kind of summer bonding that the Anthony Davis-Marquis Teague-Michael Kidd-Gilchrist group did two years ago.

“He has them enrolled in summer school and playing with veterans in pick-up games. It was the same way in 2011 when none of those kids played USA Basketball, either, so they could be together,” Weiss said.

Weiss expects Kentucky to be good. Very good. But he feels the same about Louisville.

“Louisville will be better than you think,” Weiss said. “Top three (in the country) in my mind, maybe higher. With Russ Smith staying, Montrezl Harrell and Luke Hancock both playing USA age group this summer and the recruitment of Chris Jones, the best junior college point guard in the country, they will be good.

“The game at Rupp is one I am looking forward to being there for. Could be the two best teams in the country although Duke could be a factor, too.”

By MIKE MARSEE, marsee@amnews.com

By just about any Kentucky fan’s standard, last season was a failure. By John Calipari’s standard, not so much.

The Kentucky coach said he was disappointed that the Wildcats didn’t have a better year — they finished 21-12 and lost in the first round of the NIT one year after winning a national championship — but he said that wasn’t the only measure of success for him or the players.

Calipari said all of Kentucky’s players got something out of last season — even those who didn’t play as well as expected. He talked about what he and the players took from the season Monday during his remarks to children and their family members at his satellite camp at Boyle County High School.

“In a lot of ways, it was really rewarding for me. We were disappointed. We finished second in the SEC, we were disappointed. The three (SEC) teams that went to the NCAA tournament, we were 3-1 against those teams,” Calipari said. “And you never use injuries as an excuse or any of that. Here’s what’s disappointing: We didn’t even get to the tournament; we played our way out of it.”

“But this is a players-first program. We had a 3.4 grade-point average as a team last year. Twelve out of 13 guys had a B average. Two had a 4.0. Aside from that, players benefitted from last season. We talk about players first, that’s what this is supposed to be about.

“Did we benefit from this, our staff? No. But did Nerlens (Noel) benefit from this past season? He may get drafted (number) one. He did all right. How ’bout Archie (Goodwin)? We would have like to have him come back, but we’re going to support him. Looks like he’s going to be a first-rounder, maybe a second-rounder; he’s going to get drafted.

“How ’bout Willie (Cauley-Stein)? No one knew who Willie was. He benefitted. How ’bout Alex (Poythress)? Oh, yeah, he benefitted. The benefit was you saw signs and he saw signs of where he can go, but knowing he’s got to change the path he’s on to get where he’s trying to go.

“How ’bout Kyle Wiltjer? Sixth man of the year. By the end of the year, though, what happened to him? What did every team do to him defensively? They went at him on defense, and he knew, ‘I’ve got to change my body.’ He benefitted. How ’bout Julius Mays? No one knew who Julius Mays was. Julius is going to get a contract to play in Europe.

“You may say, ‘Well, what about Jon Hood?’ Jon Hood benefitted. How ’bout Jarrod Polson? Did he benefit? Yes, he benefitted. Ryan Harrow. You may say, ‘Well, he didn’t benefit.’ Yeah, he did. In a lot of ways, he benefitted in that (he realized), ‘I’m not made for this.’ So now, that season got him to where he can go to have success.

“What I mean to say, again, when you’re about players first, it’s got to be that way, your principles, your core values, even when it doesn’t go good for me, it’s got to be about those guys first. We graduated 10 of our last 10 players in four years. Ten players who have used up their eligibility have graduated. Ten out of 10. We’ve had 17 draft picks? We just helped create 17 millionaires. Isn’t that nice. Wouldn’t you like to have that lottery ticket?

“Now, 10 out of 10 have graduated, 17 have gone on to pro careers. Some have done both: Darius Miller, Josh Harrellson. They stayed the (entire) time and they became pros. We call it a success rate. People have this graduation rate. OK, we graduate our kids, but it’s more than that.”

Calipari said he’s excited about the team he’ll put on the floor next season, but he said the incoming players will also need some work.

“This team we have coming in, with the players we have returning, we should be good. They will decide how good we’ll be,” he said. “And every one of those players, they need us in different ways. Some need us to be right on top of them, some need us to just teach. Some need us to encourage, some need us to bring them back to show we have no fear of coaching them as a player. They all need us in different ways.

“So I’m excited about the opportunities we have. I’m really excited about where this program is, what it stands for, what it stands for around the country, not just in the commonwealth. We’re about players first. We drive them. They don’t always like us, they’re not always happy with us, it doesn’t mean I’m trying to be everybody’s buddy, that’s not what it’s about. It’s about helping them reach their dreams. When we help them reach their dreams, they drag us to where we’re trying to go.

“Do we want to win national titles? Absolutely. And if we win a national title, I’m ecstatic. But you know what would disappoint me? If we won a national title and not one player was drafted. That would disappoint me.

“And you say, ‘Well, why?’ I should benefit from that, you should benefit from it, the school should benefit, the state should benefit, but those young people shouldn’t benefit? If you’re about them, it’s about, yeah, we want to do all this, but not at the expense of our young people. We’re here to help them reach their dreams.”

Kentucky's Ryan Harrow (12) works against Mississippi's Derrick Millinghaus (3) during an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, in Oxford, Miss. (AP Photo/Oxford Eagle, Bruce Newman)

Kentucky’s Ryan Harrow (12) works against Mississippi’s Derrick Millinghaus (3) during an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, in Oxford, Miss. (AP Photo/Oxford Eagle, Bruce Newman)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Ryan Harrow’s departure from Kentucky comes as no surprise. He’s transferring to Georgia State to be closer to his ailing father and hopefully the NCAA will waive the transfer rule and let him play next season so he does not lose a year of eligibility.

He’s a funny, charming, articulate and caring young man. He can be very good on the court at times. What he wasn’t was mentally or physically tough enough run Calipari’s offense or lead his team. His departure is a win-win for him and the program as he would likely have played little next year at  UK.

It’s too bad his final two games were awful. Against Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament with a NCAA bid on the line, he had his worst game. “This loss is just on me. I am the reason we lost. There’s nothing else to say. If I play well, we usually win. That’s how it always is. If I don’t play well, we lose. This loss is on me,” Harrow said after the game.

No one could say that after the Robert Morris NIT loss because he played just nine minutes and watched the second half from the bench because Calipari decided he couldn’t handle the pressure. That’s when it was obvious Harrow would not be back.

But I’ll also remember  a youngster who admitted he liked to watch cartoons, including some of the same ones by grandchildren do. I’ll remember a player who loved collecting tennis shoes and has more pairs of shoes than he can ever wear. I’ll remember that funny, squeaky voice.

What about you? What memories will you have of a player who may have crumbled under the burden of following Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose, John Wall, Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague as point guards under Calipari? Let me know the good things — we don’t  need to elaborate on the bad times any more — you will remember.

By LARRY VAUGHT

As expected, point guard Ryan Harrow will not be part of the Kentucky basketball program next season.

The sophomore point guard who had a horrible finish to the season will transfer to Georgia State.

“Given the health of his dad, we fully support Ryan’s decision to transfer to Georgia State to be closer to his family in Atlanta. Ryan was a vital part of this year’s team and an important player in practice during our 2011-12 national championship run,” Calipari said in a statement released by UK. “I want to thank Ryan for his efforts and hard work and wish him the best of luck at Georgia State. I know the Big Blue Nation will keep a close eye on him and wish him well as he continues his basketball career and his pursuit of a college degree.”

Harrow’s father suffered a stroke prior to the 2012 basketball season, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I really need to be home with him to be closer to him to make sure he’s taken care of,” Harrow told the paper.

Harrow has two years of eligibility remaining, and he will petition the NCAA for a hardship waiver to play immediately next year.

Harrow was regarded as a five-star recruit by some scouting services when he signed with North Carolina State in 2010. After one year under Mark Gottfried, Harrow transferred to Kentucky. He sat out when UK made its national title run. Last season, Harrow averaged nearly 10 points, three rebounds and three assists a game but missed almost three weeks early in the season due to personal reasons.

uk basketball logoBy LARRY VAUGHT

This could be the day that Kentucky’s 2013-14 basketball roster starts taking a more definite shape. From the time UK’s season ended with a NIT loss at Robert Morris, speculation has been rampant about who will — and who will not — be on John Calipari’s team next season.

Calipari has seven incoming freshmen — Aaron and Andrew Harrison, James Young, Marcus Lee, Derek Willis, Dakari Johnson and Julius Randle — that will definitely be on the roster. That leaves six more available scholarships.

It seems obvious that Madison Central’s Dominique Hawkins, who led Central to the state title and could well be named Mr. Basketball today, would commit if given a scholarship offer from UK. Calipari watched him three times at the state tourney and made a trip to Richmond to see him this week. Hawkins has called UK his dream school and has been told he’ll learn today if UK has a scholarship for him — and remember he plays with the toughness that Calipari felt his team lacked this year.

Calipari also made a trip to Huntington, W.Va., Thursday to see Andrew Wiggins, the nation’s top-ranked prep player who has been compared to players like LeBron James and John Wall at the same age. He’s down to UK, North Carolina, Florida State and Kansas.

If Hawkins gets a scholarship offer, it could mean that Wiggins is not coming to UK. If Hawkins doesn’t get an offer, it could mean Wiggins has let Calipari know he’s not coming. But what if Calipari offers Hawkins and also maybe knows he is going to land Wiggins? That would give UK nine freshmen — all on scholarship — and leave just four available scholarships.

It’s a given Nerlens Noel will opt for the NBA draft despite his season-ending knee injury and mid-March knee surgery. He’s still going to be at least a top five pick and that’s too much money to ignore.

Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer has been the subject of transfer rumors after not playing as well this season as fans hoped or he hoped. However, several sources close to the team said Wiltjer has made no mention of transferring and another source who knows the family says his parents have not mentioned anything about a transfer, either.

Freshmen Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin have all been projected as first-round draft picks on some mock drafts. However, only Cauley-Stein seems assured of going that high — and even analysts like Ed Isaacson of NBADraftBlog.com insist he could help himself by returning to school.

If all three come back and Wiltjer stays, that’s four scholarship to go with the seven known freshmen. That makes 11 scholarships for next year out of the 13 available.

Point guard Ryan Harrow, who started his career at North Carolina State, had a horrible end to the season. He lacked the toughness Calipari wanted from his point guard. Will he be back? My instinct says no.

What about Jarrod Polson? The junior originally came to UK as a walk-on player, but he’s been on scholarship for three seasons. He was a productive player and reliable for relief that Harrow that was needed far more often than Calipari ever imagined.

“He wants to come back. He would love to finish his career as a Wildcat,” George Polson, the player’s father, said.

However, sources at UK seem to indicate that the odds of him retaining a scholarship offer could be slim — another sign that Hawkins and/or Wiggins will be joining the roster. Apparently he’s not had a meeting with Calipari yet about his future and maybe he would rethink his position about staying on the team as a walk-on.

Then there’s Jon Hood. He has a redshirt year left and, like Polson, would like to return. Both are graduating in May and both turned down a chance to go through UK’s Senior Day in March because they want to be back. However, sources at UK again have indicate there is a strong chance there might not be room for Hood on the roster.

Perhaps Hood and/or Polson could be graduate assistant coaches. Perhaps both will become walk-ons. Perhaps Wiggins and/or Hawkins won’t pick UK and one or two other players could enter the draft along with Noel.

But Kentucky’s young team could use some veteran leadership next season. Don’t underestimate the value of having a Polson and/or Hood to tell teammates where classes are, what to do on campus, where to eat, where to shop, how to interact with fans, who to trust, who to avoid. Seems insignificant in some ways, but remember Calipari had players like Patrick Patterson, Ramon Harris, Josh Harrellson and Darius Miller around before to help talented freshmen.

So who will be on the roster?
Givens — Lee, Harrison twins, Johnson, Young, Willis, Randle, Wiltjer.
Likely — Poythress, Goodwin.
Maybe — Cauley-Stein, Hawkins, Wiggins.
Want to be — Polson, Hood.

That’s 15 — and two over the scholarship limit. Cauley-Stein to the NBA could free one scholarship. Hood as a graduate assistant could free another scholarship. Or maybe Calipari doesn’t offer Hawkins or Wiggins picks North Carolina.
Just remember the numbers always work out and starting today we could find out just what that is going to mean this year.

By LARRY VAUGHT

He scored in double figures in 18 of Kentucky’s last 24 games, but the final two games exposed every weakness that point guard Ryan Harrow had and could turn into his last two games with the Wildcats.

Harrow started his collegiate career at North Carolina State, but transferred to UK last season. He practiced daily against Marquis Teague, a strong, defensive-minded player who became a first-round NBA draft pick. The plan was for that seasoning to give Harrow a chance to become another of the productive point guards to play for coach John Calipari.

But it went wrong. Terribly wrong.

In the season opener against Maryland, Harrow didn’t score and played just 10 minutes because of an illness. He missed the next four games — and even went home for a time — for personal reasons that were never revealed by Harrow or Calipari. His first three games back (Notre Dame, Baylor and Samford) he had a combined six points in 48 minutes.

Harrow, though, seemed to reassert himself. He had 17 points in a loss at Louisville. He had three assists and no turnovers against probably the most aggressive defense UK faced all year. Two games later he had 16 points and four assists at Vanderbilt. However, he was overmatched by Alabama’s guards in a road loss and went scoreless in consecutive road losses at Florida and Tennessee when he was 0-for-5 from the field with just one assist in 37 total minutes.

Even though he came back to score in double figures six straight games and played well in upsets of Missouri (16 points, six assists) and Florida (16 points, four steals), Harrow never seemed to earn back the trust of Calipari or his teammates.

Now his future at UK is in limbo after his performances against Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference Tournament and Robert Morris in the NIT. Kentucky already has seven players in its recruiting class and could well add Andrew Wiggins and Dominique Hawkins, too. That would be nine scholarships for next season. If freshmen Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin return, that’s 11. If Kyle Wilter stays — and I think he will — that’s 12. If Jon Hood stays and used his extra year of eligibility, that’s 13. Or if Calipari wants to keep Jarrod Polson on scholarship because of the toughness he showed this year, that’s 13. And that doesn’t even take into account that freshman Willie Cauley-Stein could possibly return.

That could leave Harrow out after he went 2-for-15 from the field against Vanderbilt and had four points and four turnovers in 30 minutes. He followed that with five points and two turnovers against Robert Morris when he played only nine minutes because Calipari said he was just not tough enough to play more.

“(I did) things that I’ve never done before. One, I did things to try to help this team I’ve never done, but things that I did to try to save guys, when you have more people you just cut right then. Now you’re on the team, but you’re just not going play that much because you won’t change. Most of it is just accepting change. You can’t play this way and play,” said Calipari after the Robert Morris game.

Was he directing that at Harrow? Not entirely, but obviously playing him only nine minutes made it clear how unhappy he was with the sophomore point guard.

Are physical games like Robert Morris tough on Harrow? ““I would say. And that’s everybody’s MO on how to play us,” Calipari said.

What about his future with the team? “We’ll have an individual meeting and talk about it,” Calipari said.

Again, Harrow is not the only reason UK lost 12 games. But a veteran NBA scout told me that UK’s lack of a “quality” point guard impacted the way everyone else on the team played. It also could have led to Calipari having the softest team he’s had, or likely ever will have, because even Harrow would admit he was not tough enough.

He wept after the Vanderbilt loss in the dressing room and blamed himself for the loss. Teammates said it was not his fault, but no one rushed over to console him, either.

Harrow’s dilemma is that he cannot transfer to another Division I school without losing a year of eligibility since he’s already transferred once. He could go to Division II or NAIA and play two more years, but remember this is a player that Calipari noted several times could be “as good as any point guard in the country” when he plays the right way.

“I can’t go anywhere. So I’ll be here next year and just getting ready for next year,” Harrow said after the Robert Morris loss.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement about wanting to be back at UK to play behind twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison — or even Polson — next season.

When pressed, Harrow did say he wanted to be back.

“I definitely learned some stuff playing this year. Nobody’s ever questioned my ability or talent,” Harrow said. “It’s just been my energy and things like that. That’s easy to work on. Just got to get back to Kentucky and start working immediately, lifting weights and working on regular skill things.”

But does Calipari want him back? Does Kentucky need him back — what happens if one or both Harrisons would get hurt or even in foul trouble? Could Polson and Hawkins provide more than enough depth at guard? How will the numbers work out?

Those are all questions only Harrow and Calipari can answer, but based on the way Harrow finished the season it seems that it might be best for both UK and Harrow if the point guard finds a new place to play.

By LARRY VAUGHT

If Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin, Willie Cauley-Stein, Ryan Harrow and Kyle Wiltjer — the top five non-seniors on UK’s roster other than injured Nerlens Noel — all return to UK as they indicated they would Tuesday, they better be prepared for a culture change daily. Kentucky coach John Calipari added Julius Randle to an already impressive recruiting haul Wednesday and will add six of the nation’s top 20 players in what is being call the all-time best recruiting class in college basketball.

Kentucky players had no fear of the bench — or practice competition — this year. Next season the five players who could come back may not produce a starter among them. After all, who could argue with a freshman starting lineup of guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison, small forward James Young, power forward Julius Randle and either Dakari Johnson or Marcus Lee at center. Add Andrew Wiggins if he was to pick UK and the returning Cats will have to battle harder daily than they did at any time this year just to play.

Calipari was beating that drum not long after Tuesday’s loss.

“The best thing that’s going to happen to us next year is we’re going to have unbelievable competition at every spot. So there’s no one here that’s promised, ‘OK, I played 30 minutes a game.’ You may play five, but you will change,” Calipari said. “The stuff I had to accept this year, the program almost got hijacked. Never in my career have I surrendered in any way to any team, and I did at times this year – to try to save guys, to try to help guys – and it never works.

“So what we’re going to have is unbelievable competition. We may have three teams, so 15 guys that can play. Let’s go. It’s what we need, kind of like my first year when we had all those players. We’re going to be a little young, but with guys coming back we’ll still have some veteran guys.”

Some critics are wondering if the one-and-done philosophy Calipari has embraced finally has caught up with UK even though the Cats won the national title in 2012 and could have won it the previous two years as well.

“Who’s down on this program? The only good news is, because we have this group coming in, they’re not going to be No. 1 in the country, because they’ll say, ‘Well, maybe you can’t do it with young guys.’ And I come back to, we did it last year, won a national title with young players. But that’ll be out there,” Calipari said.

“So we have something to prove: You can do it with young players if you have some veterans sprinkled in who come with a great attitude and understand what they have to do. If there’s any doubters, have at it. You can doubt all you want. This program’s in great shape. Kids across the country still want to come here. It’s all good.”

Randle’s decision to pick UK over Kansas, Florida and Texas certainly seemed to validate what Calipari said after the NIT loss.

Remember back in November when Morehead coach Sean Woods, a former Wildcat, said he sensed the current Cats felt entitled and drew the wrath of UK fans. Calipari admitted Tuesday “maybe” Woods was right. Then he also explained a lot more about what went wrong this year.

“There was a combination of our skill set wasn’t where it needed to be, we weren’t real skilled and (we didn’t) work as hard and together as we needed to. Was it a combination of all? Was it a lack of leadership or guard play? People have said our guard play stunk. I don’t know if it stunk. I’ll have to go look back. All I know is, there were things that we did this year we will not do. We will correct, and we’ll be fine,” Calipari said.

“This program’s fine. The recruiting is in good shape. We’re right where we need to be. I’ll be out on the road tomorrow looking at juniors. We’re ahead in the junior class. We’re fine. And we will be a tough ball team next year. We will be a tough, hard-nosed, fighting team next year. I promise you we will be because I can’t sit through that. I can’t take it.”

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.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

MOON, Pa. — Unless you win the national championship like Kentucky did last season, there’s never a perfect way for a team to end a season. However, sometimes there can be a fitting way — and that’s just what happened to Kentucky.

A team that lacked toughness, cohesiveness, playmakers and focus got dominated early, battled back and then made crucial mistakes at the end to fill 59-57 to Robert Morris here Tuesday night in the first round of the NIT.

“They deserved to win. If we had won at the buzzer, it would have been a shame. We didn’t deserve to win,” said Kentucky coach John Calipatria, who said he grew up only about “two 7-irons” away from the campus.

He was right, too. Robert Morris roared out to a 10-0 lead over Kentucky — a team that even Calipari admitted may not have wanted to be playing after falling to Vanderbilt Friday in the SEC Tournament to lose a NCAA Tournament bid on Sunday — in front of a sold-out crowd of 3,444 that had many fans lining up three hours before tip-off to secure the best seats.

Kentucky got back into the game by halftime, but trailed 53-42 before an 11-0 run tied the game with 3 minutes, 15 seconds to play. Kentucky tied the game again at 57-57 with 42.5 seconds left, but with time running out on the shot clock the Colonials’ Mike McFadden got an offensive rebound after a Willie Cauley-Stein block on an inbounds play and was fouled. He hit both free throws with 8.7 seconds to go.

The Cats got an open 3-pointer for Kyle Wiltjer, who had missed his only 3-pointer Tuesday and 19 of his last 22 tries, just before the buzzer. But it missed to touch on a court-storming by the Robert Morris students and a funeral-like procession off the court one last time this season for Kentucky.

“Robert Morris played great,” Calipari said. “They said we could not withstand their physical toughness, so go at them. They played a physical, hard-nosed game. We were down 10-0 and the game was too rough. We had guys that couldn’t play. Just couldn’t put them in. We were trying to win.”

One obviously was point guard Ryan Harrow. He cried after UK’s loss to Vandy and blamed himself for the loss and letting his team down after missing 13 of 15 shots and making four turnovers. He didn’t get to miss that many shots this time because despite two early scores, he played just nine minutes, including just two the second half when Calipari turned the team over to junior Jarrod Polson, who had 10 points, three assists and one rebound. More importantly, he played with some pizzazz that Harrow didn’t.

Calipari said it wasn’t only Harrow that backed down. He recalled early last season when teams tried to play rough with UK before the Cats decided they wanted no part of that.

“Guys said this ain’t happening and negated that and by the end of the year you could not play us physical and tough and win the game,” Calipari said. “We never accepted that was an issue and that we had to change how we played.”

Against Robert Morris, Alex Poythress had six points and two rebounds. Willie Cauley-Stein had nine points, four rebounds and four turnovers. Neither could dominate inside.

Julius Mays, who tried to be UK’s team leader, was 1-for-5 from the field after going 2-for-8 in the Vanderbilt loss.  Wiltjer made one of four shots and had no rebounds in 10 minutes.

Archie Goodwin overcame a shaky start to score 18 points and almost give UK the win. He also had seven rebounds, one assist and one steal. He even took a hard shot to the face on a deliberate foul after a steal and made both free throws — he was 8-for-8 at the line — while refusing to back down. But other than Goodwin, Polson and Jon Hood, who had two points and three rebounds in 15 minutes, the fight just was not there.

Yet Calipari insisted he was not relieved to have the season end.

“I wanted to keep coaching them. The reason was I was hoping the light would go on for Alex. The light would go on for Kyle. The light would go on for Archie,” Calipari said. “You don’t know when the light goes on. This was good for them. They needed a game exactly light this to see what they needed and then evaluate where they are. I am tough enough to play college basketball. Maybe I don’t have it.

“We fouled twice in a tie game. Why foul? Why not play disciplined? Well, we have not been disciplined all year. It kind of ended on a note that we have been talking about all year. You can’t win if  you play that way.”

Calipari vowed it won’t be that way again. He got caught with little depth, especially after Nerlens Noel went down with a knee injury, and not enough depth. He’s already signed six players for next year and could add another star Wednesday when Julius Randle makes his college choice. Goodwin, Poythress and Cauley-Stein all indicated after this loss they expected to be back next year, too.

“This was humbling. You think you are supposed to win 30 games, win 35 games, get to the Elite Eight, win tournament championships, win the national title. This was a humbling experience, but also a learning experience,” the UK coach said. “I did things I have never done to try and help the team. The things I did to try and save guys, when you have more people they won’t play this much.”

But that’s next year and for now UK can only think about what was supposed to be a rebuilding year that would turn into a NCAA Tournament ready team instead turned into a NIT bust.

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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