- Tuesday, March 17 2009 -
NIT (at Lexington, KY)
UNLV - 60 (Head Coach: Lon Kruger) - [Unranked]
|Jo'Van "Wink" Adams||35||5||12||2||6||2||5||0||4||4||1||2||3||0||2||14|
Kentucky - 70 (Head Coach: Billy Gillispie) - [Final Unranked by AP]
|A. J. Stewart||8||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||2||2||2||0||0||0||0||2|
Halftime Score: Kentucky 36, UNLV 24
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Louisiana State 58 - 67|||||Creighton 65 - 63|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats survive rally, win in Memorial Coliseum
It didn't take long for Kentucky's embattled basketball team to figure out something special was in the air. By the end of a magical night some 32 years in the making the grins were as wide as a Cheshire cat.
Playing in tradition-filled Memorial Coliseum for the first time since 1976, UK gave a crowd of 8,327 fans the memory of a lifetime. The Cats rampaged to a 20-point second half lead, then nearly threw it all away before holding on for a 70-60 victory over UNLV in the first round of the NIT.
The Rebels sliced the deficit to 60-57 with 4:05 remaining but never drew any closer as the Cats steadied themselves and put the game on ice.
The evening was magical for those who yearn for the old days when Memorial Coliseum was the site of so many dominating UK victories. The fans were at full throat for most of the night and cheered wildly as the Cats dribble out the final seconds.
"You could see it in the fans' eyes," junior forward Perry Stevenson said. "You could feel it."
The infectious vibe hanging over the old barn turned a previously tight and anxious UK team into a joyous, smiling band of brothers. The Cats' body language looked different from the word go, perhaps because of the environment or arguably because a world of pressure was released when a NCAA Tournament berth was no longer hanging over their heads.
Whatever the reason, everyone in the building felt it.
"We have nothing to lose now so let's go out and play," junior guard Michael Porter said. "I guess we should have been playing like this all year. It was nice. I think we had a little more fun and played with a little more confidence."
The scene was summed up in one rarely seen moment. Stevenson, who had 45 dunks on the year entering the game, had the basketball near the top of the key, eyed a lane to the basket and soared over UNLV forward Joe Darger for what even Patrick Patterson admitted was the dunk of the year by a Cat. As the crowd - and UK's bench - went delirious, Stevenson let loose with emotion rarely seen from the stoic Louisiana native.
The dunk even caught teammates by surprise.
"It was hilarious," Patterson said. "He did his little pose and was trying to flex his muscles and all I could do was laugh. We were cracking jokes saying, 'Did you see Perry flex his bones?' I can't remember the last time he actually dunked on someone."
By the time UNLV finally started making threes UK had created what proved to be an insurmountable lead. During one stretch the Cats made 15-of-19 field goals and played with an efficiency on both ends of the floor they had not had over the final six weeks of the season.
"I can't remember the last time we played like that," Patterson said. "Everything was clicking. We played tremendous defense and that really helped us out on offense. We knew we could take advantage of the inside game. We knew we had a size advantage."
The Rebels pressed pause the pause button on the party with a late run fueled by six three-pointers during a 25-8 run over a nine-minute stretch. When the lead was sliced to three, Stevenson hit a free throw and then the Cats forced a turnover and shot clock violation as they pushed the edge back out to eight.
"I knew they would make some of their shots and I some of those would fall and they did eventually and they came back on us," Porter said. "They're a good team but we held our composure and finally pulled out a close win."
A win so joyous no one wanted to leave. It was that type of evening.
UK will now face the winner of Creighton and Bowling Green, who play Wednesday night in Omaha. The date and time will be determined after that contest.
Patrick Patterson scores inside as UNLV's Joe Darger defends
Perry Stevenson extends for a highlight-reel dunk
Jodie Meeks shoots over UNLV's Mareceo Rutledge