UK Men's Basketball

Cats head back to Memorial

Make the most of it (or, in this case, make that the most of the NIT).

That was the advice of former Kentucky athletics director C.M. Newton to UK fans after the Cats officially became part of this year's National Invitation Tournament.

"It's not the national championship," Newton said Sunday night. "But their résumé was not a national championship résumé.

"That's just the fact."

So Kentucky (20-13) failed to make the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since 1991. That ended a streak of 17 straight appearances, which ranked fifth longest by any school.

Instead, Kentucky will play in the NIT. The first-round opponent will be UNLV, coached by a familiar face, former Florida Coach Lon Kruger. The game will be Tuesday in Memorial Coliseum.

Kentucky Roster | Schedule | Stats

UNLV Roster | Schedule | Stats

The winner will play either Creighton or Bowling Green in the second round.

As the No. 1 seed in the bracket of eight teams, Creighton would play host to a second-round game if it wins the first-round game. NIT rules say the better-seeded team gets the home game.

Only a scheduling conflict with the arena can move a game to the worse seed's hometown. Creighton has no conflicts with a second-round game in its Qwest Center Omaha home arena (capacity 17,272), publicist Rob Anderson said.

By Kentucky standards, the game and the NIT are a letdown.

But Newton, the chairman of the NIT Selection Committee, advised Kentucky fans to enjoy the chance to watch the team play again.

"These are good young people," he said of the Cats. "They're well coached. They come to play. I'd just be glad you can see them play again.

"I enjoy watching (Jodie) Meeks and (Patrick) Patterson and (Perry) Stevenson and the others. They play hard, and they play pretty well."

Newton noted that other teams, such as Vanderbilt and Mississippi (two teams that beat Kentucky in the regular season), will not play again.

"Enjoy it and pull them through and get them to New York," Newton said of his advice to UK fans.

When reminded that UK fans have eyes only for the NCAA Tournament and Final Four grandeur, Newton said, in essence, get over it.

"Don't feel sorry for yourself," he said. "Get ready for next year. Get (freshman DeAndre) Liggins and some of the young guys ready for next year. ...

"I don't have much sympathy or patience for people who think like that. That's not the real basketball fan. That's the basketball fanatic."

Of the four Southeastern Conference teams that made the NIT, Kentucky was assigned the poorest seed. Maybe not-so-coincidentally, Kentucky had the poorest finish in the regular-season standings.

UK was a No. 4 seed. Florida and Auburn got No. 1 seeds. South Carolina was a No. 3 seed.

Newton, who by NIT rules was not allowed to vote on a bid or seeding involving a school where he formerly worked, said such factors as finish in the conference and head-to-head results played a role in determining seeding.

UNLV comes into the NIT with an overall record of 21-10. The Runnin' Rebels finished fifth in the Mountain West Conference at 9-7.

Former UK guard Derrick Jasper transferred to UNLV after last season. He is sitting out this season as a transfer. It was not known Sunday night whether Jasper would make the trip to Lexington, UNLV publicist Andy Grossman said.

UNLV owns a better Ratings Percentage Index than Kentucky's. The Runnin' Rebels have an RPI of 67. Kentucky's is 79.

Kentucky played a tougher schedule. The Cats' schedule was ranked 64th toughest in the country by UNLV's schedule was rated the 83rd toughest.

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