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Cat Attack 3-18-

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Wildcats Attack UNLV

By Brian Melton

    The Kentucky Wildcats kicked off their postseason play this year with a home game against UNLV in Memorial Coliseum on March 17.  The site had not hosted an actual game since 1976 and was always the home for Midnight Madness when I was growing up.  The change of venue from Rupp Arena added some excitement to an event, an NIT game, that doesn’t exactly get my blood pressure up. 

I honestly had a hard time getting excited about the game and still can’t believe that the Kentucky Wildcats will not be playing in the NCAA Tournament.  I didn’t even have any desire to yell at my television and never felt the least bit angry.  I know, my wife’s prayers have been answered, but for me it was an almost surreal feeling.  I have never watched a UK basketball game and truly not cared about the outcome.  Don’t take that the wrong way, I always want the Cats to win as I did last night, but if they lost it would have just sped up the process of moving on to next season. 

    The Wildcats started the first half off with turnover after turnover and fell behind early to UNLV 9-2.  The Cats managed to fight back and take a 36-24 lead at halftime.  All nine players that played in the first half scored, which is some sort of a record, at least for this team and Patrick Patterson finished off the scoring with an emphatic dunk that sent the crowd into a frenzy. 

    The second half started much better than the first as Kentucky seemed to be able to do no wrong in building a 20 point lead with 13 minutes to go in the game.  Unfortunately, the Cats failed to put away another opponent as UNLV, led by hot three point shooting, was able to close the margin to three points with four minutes to play.  Kentucky was able to ratchet up the defensive intensity down the stretch and came away with victory 70-60. 

    The most impressive thing about this game was the Kentucky crowd.  The crowd arrived early and was into the game throughout.  The crowd was loud and helped the team do something they haven’t done at all this year it has seemed: HAVE FUN PLAYING BASKETBALL!!!  The team fed off of the positive energy and played with a desire and passion that has been missing.  I honestly thought the place was going to explode when Perry Stephenson dunked on the UNLV player while being fouled in the second half.  It was hard to tell that this was an NIT game, which says a lot for the type of fans this basketball program has.

    The other major topic of discussion before, during, and after the game is the future of Coach Billy Gillispie.  Rumors continue to fly around the Internet, message boards, newspapers, and television.  The most amazing thing to me is how much the national media has taken to the story.  The folks at ESPN, CBS, Sports Illustrated and any other journalist with a pulse it seems to have thoughts on the topic or inside sources that always make me laugh.  Personally, I’m torn about what the right decision for the University of Kentucky would be.  I think that Gillispie struggles mightily interacting with people, which is one of the most important aspects of Kentucky’s head basketball coach.  He is the ambassador for the university, the state, and the fans of this program.  The only thing I hope for is that once the Cats season is over, that there is a quick resolution to the situation one way or the other.  Will that happen, well a source of mine says maybe.

    Next up for the Cats is a game next Monday against the winner of the Creighton-Bowling Green game that will be played tonight.  The Cats would only host the game if Bowling Green were to win, as Kentucky would be the higher seed.  Otherwise, it’s a road trip to Omaha, Nebraska.  Not exactly the Final Four, but the are still playing basketball.