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March 15, 2012
Tops Can't Pull Off Upset Against KY
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LOUISVILLE, Ky.-- Minutes before David took on Goliath, the little guy got a motivational boost.
UNC-Asheville, a No. 16 seed, led but narrowly fell to No. 1 seed Syracuse.
WKU, the only losing team in the NCAA Tournament fell behind by as much as 32 points to Kentucky before mounting a late comeback and falling 81-66 in the second round at the KFC Yum! Center.
Toppers coach Ray Harper said he was aware of the near topple of the Orange, but he didn't relay the news to his players.
"We talked about what we thought we needed to do to win the game," he said. "We needed to make sure we didn't get in a hurry in the half-court and rush shots."
The confidence was there for WKU. The Toppers came out shooting, but early on, few of those shots went in.
That cold shooting hand led to a 10-0 start to the game by the Wildcats, the top overall seed in the tournament.
WKU came back and kept the game close for most of the first half, before Kentucky ended the half on a 25-9 run as the Toppers couldn't get their shots to fall.
"We knew we could play them and we could win this ball game," freshman guard T.J. Price said. "We just didn't get back in transition defense. That killed us and that was the really big thing."
Price was the Toppers' only big thing in the first half, scoring 16 of WKU's 26 first half points.
The Wildcats opened the second half as hot as the first, stretching their 45-26 halftime lead to 74-42 with 8:42 left in the game.
The Toppers showed some life in the final minutes, as shots began to fall, which cut the lead to the final margin of 15.
Price led WKU with 21 points, fouling out with 3:19 remaining. Senior guard Kahlil McDonald hit three late 3-pointers for 13 points, while freshman forward George Fant also added 13 points.
Sophomore forward Terrence Jones led Kentucky with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
"That basketball team isn't the number one team in this tournament for nothing,"
Freshman guard Derrick Gordon said. "We just sort of rushed things in the first half. We wasn't playing like ourselves. We didn't get back in transition defense and that really messed us up a lot."
The Toppers' whirlwind season concludes at 16-19, while the Wildcats advance to take on the winner of the Connecticut/Iowa State game in the third round.
WKU couldn't pull off the same feat UNC-Asheville nearly did, of the first No. 16 to defeat a No. 1. But Harper said his players' heart might have.
"It's been quite a journey and I'm just thankful that I was able to be along for the ride," Harper said. "They're terrific."