UK had too many road losses for NCAA

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 17, 2013 

Two days after point guard Ryan Harrow apologized for the loss in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Coach John Calipari all but expressed regret for Kentucky being selected Sunday to play in the National Invitation Tournament.

"We had our chances," Calipari tweeted in reaction to UK not getting a bid to the NCAA Tournament for only the second time since 1991. "But I'm not going to stop. It's a great lesson for the future of our program & a humbling experience for me as a coach."

Calipari saluted UK fans, who now face the prospect of traveling to Pittsburgh to watch the Cats play next. Kentucky plays its first-round NIT game at Robert Morris on Tuesday night.

"You did your part all season long," Calipari tweeted in reference to UK fans. "You showed up in droves and helped us pull through key games. We didn't do our part."

Kentucky's chances for an NCAA Tournament died last Friday with a 64-48 loss to Vanderbilt in its first game in the SEC Tournament. Harrow, who made only two of 15 shots in the loss to Vandy, offered a tearful apology afterward.

Xavier Athletic Director Mike Bobinski, the chair of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, said Kentucky (21-11) did not need to win the SEC Tournament to get a bid.

"Winning a game, winning two games would have given us a little more confidence in who they are as a team," he said of the Cats.

Kentucky was among the final teams removed from consideration for an NCAA Tournament bid along with Alabama, Tennessee, Iowa, Southern Miss and Virginia, Bobinski said.

During an interview with CBS television and later a teleconference with reporters, Bobinski repeatedly stressed the importance of winning away from home. Counting the Feb. 12 game at Florida during which star freshman Nerlens Noel tore an anterior cruciate ligament, Kentucky lost its last five games away from Rupp Arena. Bobinski noted that each loss came by a double-digit margin (the longest such streak for the proud program since 1910). The final four losses came to teams that did not receive bids to the NCAA Tournament: Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia and Vandy.

"It really shows a sign of strength if you're able to go on the road and beat good teams away from home," Bobinski said. "If you haven't shown you can play away from your own environment, then that's an indication to us maybe you're not one of those 37 best teams" that receive at-large bids.

Kentucky lost those final five games away from Rupp Arena by an average margin of 17.2 points.

Alabama and Tennessee also received NIT bids. The SEC placed only three teams in the NCAA Tournament: regular-season champion Florida, SEC Tournament champion Mississippi and Missouri. The three bids were the fewest received by the SEC's present-day 14 member schools since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

Calipari, whose high school is less than a mile from the Robert Morris campus, welcomed the chance to play in the NIT.

"We are going to use this time to make us better," he tweeted. "... Even now I'm going to coach these guys, try to make them better & give everything I can to make sure we control our destiny in the future."

Robert Morris (23-11) set a school record this season by making 284 three-point shots. The Colonials lost competitive games at Arkansas 79-74 and Xavier 61-59. Their homecourt, the Charles L. Sewall Center has a listed capacity of 3,056. The team's average home attendance this season was 1,046.

Because Rupp Arena is playing host to second- and third-round games of the NCAA Tournament this weekend, the school did not have the staff to also seek a home game in the NIT, spokesman DeWayne Peevy said in a statement. If the Cats beat Robert Morris, UK will bid for a second-round and quarterfinal games, Peevy said.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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