UK Earns NIT Top Seed, To Face Robert Morris in Opening Round

March 17, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Despite missing out on an NCAA Tournament at-large bid to defend their national championship, the Kentucky Wildcats have been selected to play in the National Invitation Tournament.

UK's NIT bid extends the Wildcats' streak of postseason appearances in either the NCAA Tournament or NIT to 22 consecutive seasons.

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NIT First Round
Kentucky at Robert Morris
Tues., March 19 - 7:30 p.m. ET
Moon Township, Penn.
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Kentucky (21-11) earned a No. 1 seed and will face eighth-seeded Robert Morris on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET at the Charles L. Sewall Center in Moon Township, Pa., outside of Pittsburgh. The game will be televised live on ESPN.

Kentucky is 1-0 against Robert Morris all-time with the lone meeting coming in a 92-67 triumph for the Wildcats on Dec. 30, 1993 in Rupp Arena.

"I'm really disappointed we didn't make the NCAA Tournament, but we are going to use this time to make us better," UK head coach John Calipari said. "We had our chances, but I'm not going to stop. It's a great lesson for the future of our program and a humbling experience for me as a coach."

UK is 13-6 in the NIT all-time. UK last played in the NIT during the 2009 season reaching the quarterfinals before falling 77-67 at Notre Dame.

"I'm excited to return to Pittsburgh and look forward to facing a team that is going to present a real challenge for us," Calipari said. "Robert Morris won their league in the regular season. They shoot a lot of 3-pointers, produce a lot of steals, so we have to come prepared."

Kentucky is making its ninth NIT appearance, having won the tournament twice, in 1946 and 1976. The Wildcats are 5-3 all-time in NIT openers.

Since 1992, UK owns a 105-28 (.789) record in postseason play (SEC, NIT and NCAA).

John Calipari has used the NIT as a springboard in his previous two stops at Massachusetts and Memphis. Overall, this marks the sixth NIT appearance in Calipari's career. He reached the NIT semifinals in four of those appearances while winning the NIT championship in 2002 with Memphis. In three of the seasons he used the NIT as a building block for an NCAA Tournament berth the following year, including an NCAA Tournament Elite Eight appearance with Memphis in 2006 after reaching the NIT semifinals in 2005.

In Calipari's first year at Kentucky the Wildcats reached the 2010 NCAA Tournament Elite Eight the year after UK appeared in the 2009 NIT.

"To the Big Blue Nation, you did your part all season long," Calipari said. "You showed up in droves and helped us pull through key games. We didn't do our part. Even now, I'm going to coach these guys, try to make them better and give everything I can to make sure we control our destiny in the future."

The first three rounds of the NIT are hosted at the campus site of one of the participating teams. For each game, the higher-seeded team has the first option to host unless logistical circumstances preclude such an opportunity.

"We did not place a bid to host the first round of the NIT due to limited staff availability to properly host a game at Memorial Coliseum," said UK Executive Associated AD DeWayne Peevy. "Because the University of Kentucky is hosting the NCAA second- and third-round games at Rupp Arena on March 21 and 23, the facility was not available for a first-round NIT game. We placed a bid to host both the second round and quarterfinal games at Rupp Arena if we advance."

Kentucky is a host institution for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament to be held Thursday and Saturday in Rupp Arena.

First-round games will be played March 19 and 20. Second-round games can be played March 21-25 and quarterfinal games will be played March 26 and 27.

The winner of the UK-Robert Morris matchup will face the winner of the first round game between No. 4-seed Providence and No. 5 Charlotte.

The 2013 Postseason NIT will be in its 76th season at New York City's Madison Square Garden. On Tuesday, April 2, the four quarterfinal winners will square off with the Championship scheduled for Thursday, April 4.

Tickets to the first round game at Robert Morris University can be purchased by calling the RMU ticket office at 412.397.4949. Tickets are $20 for reserved seating, $15 for general admission and $5 for students.

Transcript from Media Opportunity - March 18, 2013

Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari

On what can the team get out of playing in the NIT …
"We (have) got time to work with our guys. We have a bunch of young guys. Keep coaching them and maybe the light goes on. Maybe reality hits. When you hit rock bottom you either want to change or you are delusional. We will see if we have delusional guys or they understand."

On if he thinks the players still want to play ...
"We will see, won't we? Let's go throw it up. I'm watching a team that plays really hard in Robert Morris, really hard. Guard play, you ready? Scramble and shoot 3's. Nine 3's a game. Top five or six, top five or six (nationally) and 3-point field goal percentage or there about. Nine steals a game. A lot like Arkansas. Two physical teams going at each other and neither one wanted to back away."

On Jon Hood's reference to Robert Morris players being like Pittsburgh players …
"I do not know if they're Pittsburgh guys. I am not a Pittsburgh guy. I don't think they are from Pittsburgh.  They are a bunch of tough players and tough guys. They are a veteran kind of team. Their leadership, their point guard is you know, he'll grab guys. I've seen him on tape, just go grab a guy. Just because he has the ability to physically dominate a game that he can do that and no one messes with him."

On his thoughts on going back to Pittsburgh …
"We'll it's funny, I've coached about 25 games in that gym.  At five star (camps) when I was 23, 22, 24, 22, 21 whatever it was 25. If we took care of Vanderbilt and we didn't get in, I would have let loose. But, by losing to Vanderbilt we have nothing to say (about not making the NCAA Tournament). I don't care that we were close to this team that team, it could have been us or it could have been them, we had more top 50's, the three teams that went to our tournament we were 3-1 against those teams. 'How can this be?' Because we didn't take care of business in that game. We weren't even close. So, I'm not saying anything. We're where we deserve to be, so let's go see what we are made of now."

On his plans for this trip and going to visit people from his hometown of Moon Township ...
"I told my wife don't even come. (It's) too quick. I mean we get in there late tonight and leave late tomorrow night. It's not worth that. There will be some guys at our practice tonight that I'll see."

On his feelings about how the season is turning out …
"One thing is I have no regrets because I've tried everything.  (It's) Humbling because it's probably the first group in a long time that wouldn't respond and change, which means that you know to say well it's going to happen every year because it happened eight-straight years, now it's like think back to that year because it didn't happen. And again, I learned a lot of lessons that our staff is taking into account as we go forward.  What kind of team we have. What kind of personnel we have. What kind of mentalities we have. The guys that we've always had in the past. You know it's a great learning experience. (I) hate going through it. I'd rather learn from someone else's issues than my own. This was hard. I feel good, but it was hard going through it. We never stopped coaching them. We never gave up on guys, never. So, I have no regrets on what we did. Yet, I'm just disappointed that the response wasn't there."

On who will be on the team next year …
"We will sit down and talk about all that stuff when the time is right, but that's when the season is over."

On how he would coach differently if he knew guys were four-year players …
"We'll you're more patient. (It) Doesn't matter that you're this way. You better get it in there next year, and we are bringing in other guys so you have to step up.  But, this may be a group of four-year players. There is nothing wrong with that. Why is everybody panicked? So they're four year players, so?  You get another group and now you have a nice big team, and you take on the world."

On if this season changes his philosophy on recruiting …
"Nope. Nope. Nope. I liked that National title. I like that National title."

On if this team has made him look for certain personalities when recruiting players …
"Yep. Yep. Yep. I will look for guys that can deal with us as coaches, me as head coach, and that can play with the mentality we want them to play with. We have to be more precise in that. There is a certain toughness that you have to have in this thing, and I have always had it. When you don't have it, you know. The thing again is toughness. Jay Bilas wrote that book, and it's a great book because it's not just that you want to get in a fist fight. There is a certain thing about mental toughness and those 15 or 16 things that you have that you are just tougher at. You understand that preparation makes you tough. That hard work and doing more than what is expected at practice makes you tougher. Not 'I'm trying to get out of this, this is torture.' 'I don't want to do this,' and then get in the game, let go of the rope, and you have no toughness. So there is more than that. There is a certain thing that we have had. It is never too late for this team. Never. We have games left and we are still playing."

On Jon Hood saying that leaving with some hardware is better than nothing …
"It is more or less. Did we use this time to get better? Because if not, then why are you doing it? We have issues; let's deal with them. Let's use them to get better. We have more time to practice with our team. We have a bunch of young players. We are going to use the time to get better."

On how he would like to see the team improve in this period …
"Make more free throws I guess, I don't know. Just work harder, turn the light on. Get in the game and play more physical. Don't get pushed around and go in there and play off one another better, like we have at times. We seem like we are discombobulated at times. 'I am only going to give you the ball when the guy knocks me down and I can't drive it anymore, so here, you take it.' You can't play that way, so we are hoping that they improve as a team, playing off one another."

On if it is harder to coach a team that plays so well one game and then turns around and plays so badly, as compared to a team that is consistently mediocre …
"Yeah, you have no idea. I told DeWayne (Peevy) this, there is no anxiety with this team for me because why am I worried about it because I have no idea what is going to show? We had great practices and we are tough, mentally tough on them, verbally tough on them. We are getting them ready for the war. They are ready. Willie (Cauley-Stein) before the game said, 'I think we are ready. I am really ready Coach. I think we are ready. Man I hope we are ready.' This guy and that guy, you just don't know. Are you going to show today? But you know what, I am going to say it again. At any point in your life, you can change, start today. Start today in practice, in the game tomorrow, and go forward and change. It is wishful thinking because I have been saying it every day, and we haven't. But that's my hope and I won't change it. This team could be as good as they want to be. We could have backed into the tournament; we didn't. Now we have to go on the road and play, which is a good thing for us. If you want to keep the season going, then let's go; keep it going."

#4, Jon Hood, G, Jr.

On his first reaction about not making the NCAA Tournament …
"I'm disappointed just like anybody would be, to not get invited to play in the NCAA Tournament. It is a disappointment that we didn't get in but we still get to play basketball."

On if he thought Kentucky could have gotten in …
"Of course we were still hoping we would still get in. We thought that with everything that we had done, we deserved it a little bit more than some of the other teams, but the committee made their decision and we are going to the NIT. I mean we aren't above anybody. We are going."

On what an NIT title would mean to Kentucky …
"It means that you went out on the right note. You went out on a good note and you always want to do that. You always want to end your season with a win and there are two teams that get to do that. We want to be the second team. It stinks that we aren't in the NCAA and we can't do it there, but life goes on."

On what the reaction was when it was final that you weren't playing in the NCAA Tournament …
"(We were) Just kind of speechless for a while. Nobody really knew what to do. We had to wait around until 9 to see who we would play and we are just moving on."

On what he thinks of his own play as of late …
"Me being pleased or not pleased with how I have played as of late doesn't really matter because we didn't win. If we would have won then yeah, everyone would have been pleased with the way they had been playing probably. But we didn't win, so nobody is happy."

#34, Julius Mays, G, GS

On his instant reaction to finding out the team would not be in the NCAA tournament …
"It was hurtful, especially to me because it is my last year, but there is nothing we can do about it. We put ourselves in this predicament. We can't blame anybody but ourselves, so all we can do is move forward."

On how much it would hurt to lose at Robert Morris after being left out of the NCAA tournament …
"Well, I am not thinking about losing. I would just hope that everybody would have a sense of pride to go in there and play the way we are capable of playing and not have to worry about being embarrassed or upset."

On if guys on the team are still motivated to play …
"Yes. I think to just have the opportunity to keep playing with each other will be a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to it. Obviously not the tournament we wanted to be in, but just getting the chance to keep playing is the most important thing."

On what an NIT title would mean to the team after winning a NCAA title …
"I wouldn't know. I haven't had either one. I mean to come away with any hardware is better than none I guess."

On playing in a gym with a capacity of 3,000 …
"It will be different obviously. We are used to playing in front of a big crowd. I think this will probably be the smallest crowd a Kentucky team has ever played in front of, but we just have to be ready for it. It will probably be 95% of their fans with a few of our fans. It will be us against that whole gym and we'll just have to be ready to play and have a sense of urgency."

On Coach Calipari saying that his players have to prove that they want to play …
"I think he is right. I think that is the right thing to say. We don't want fans to go buy tickets and have a few guys that don't really want to be there and show it and we lay an egg in the first game. So, I think we do have to prove ourselves that we want to play and I think we do have something to prove. I hope our guys are ready to play."