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Kentucky hoping to get back on track in NCAA men's soccer opener

Callum Irving, UK's goalie, was Conference USA's player of the year in 2014.
Callum Irving, UK's goalie, was Conference USA's player of the year in 2014. UK Athletics

The University of Kentucky men's soccer team began the season sluggishly, closed it with a pair of losses and was red hot in between.

The Wildcats would like to get hot again when they begin NCAA Tournament play against Oakland University at UK's Wendell and Vickie Bell Soccer Complex on Thursday night.

Kentucky lost three of its first five matches then caught fire starting with a 1-0 victory at top-ranked Notre Dame on Sept. 8. The Wildcats put together a stretch in which they went 9-1-4, setting up a showdown for the regular-season Conference USA championship against Charlotte on Nov. 7.

UK lost that match to the 49ers, 2-1, then was upset by South Carolina by the same score in the first round of the C-USA Tournament.

UK is making its second NCAA Tournament appearance in the past three seasons. The Cats are 1-5-2 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, most recently losing to Xavier 1-0 in overtime in 2012.

The Wildcats, guided by C-USA Coach of the Year Johan Cedergren, are led by conference player of the year Callum Irving, and first team all-league players Jordan Wilson and Napo Matsoso.

Irving, UK goalkeeper has recorded 10 shutouts this season with a 0.63 goals-against average.

The Wildcats are 3-4-3 against teams in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.

Oakland, out of Rochester, Mich., should not to be taken lightly.

The Golden Grizzlies will be making their sixth NCAA appearance since 2000 and first since 2010. They won the Horizon League regular season and tournament titles, going undefeated in conference play.

Like Kentucky, Oakland started the season slowly, going winless (0-3-1) in its first four before winning seven straight.

Oakland's most notable victory came against then-10th-ranked Michigan State, 2-0 on Oct. 22.

The Grizzlies are led offensively by Matt Dudley, who has three goals, all of which won games, and six assists this season.

Wes Mink is the full-time starter in the net for Oakland and has a goal against average of 0.93.