Gardner-Webb Stuns No. 20 Kentucky

Thursday, November 8th 2007, 7:41 am
By: News On 6

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) _ Kentucky's players will get plenty of time to think about their first loss in the Billy Gillispie era.

The No. 20 Wildcats were expected to be headed to New York next week for the semifinals of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic. Instead, Gardner-Webb is taking their place after an 84-68 shocker Wednesday night.

After the Wildcats played their first two games under Gillispie in two days, they'll get two weeks of practice time before facing Liberty in game No. 3.

``It was a great exhibition of basketball by Gardner-Webb,'' Gillispie said. ``They just came into our place and I thought they whipped us in every phase of the game. The box score was not indicative of how bad they beat us.''

It was pretty bad, though.

One night after holding Central Arkansas to 20 percent shooting _ the Wildcats' best defensive performance since 1995 _ Gardner-Webb burned Kentucky for 53 percent.

Coach Rick Scruggs said his team may have been better prepared for the 23,000 fans that packed Rupp Arena after playing in front of a sparse crowd Tuesday night against Alabama A&M in the tournament's opening round.

``We could get used to the surroundings and then see last night how loud and boisterous it gets,'' Scruggs said. ``These are the greatest fans in the country. It is a dream of mine to come here and have the chance to play Kentucky.''

Kentucky, Division I's winningest program, hadn't lost a regular-season game to a mid-major since falling to Western Kentucky on Nov. 15, 2001, in that season's opener. It lost to Alabama-Birmingham in 2004 in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Kentucky's last home loss to an unranked nonconference foe was Dec. 3, 2005, against North Carolina.

``It's embarrassing when you lose, especially when it happens at home,'' Kentucky forward Perry Stevenson said. ``We've just got to keep working hard and make sure it doesn't happen again.''

The tournament, benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer, had been set up to send four top programs _ No. 3 Memphis, Connecticut, Oklahoma and Kentucky _ to New York next week to play in the semifinals.

However, instead of the Wildcats, Gardner-Webb, which finished 9-21 last season and tied for seventh in the Atlantic Sun Conference, will play the winner of Thursday night's game between Buffalo and Connecticut.

``We had confidence,'' Gardner-Webb forward Thomas Sanders said. ``We wanted to play four minutes at a time and go timeout to timeout and give ourselves a chance to win in the final minutes. We ended up not needing to do that, though.''

As it turned out, the Wildcats never had control of this game, trailing 14-0 just 4 minutes in, missing their first four shots and turning the ball over four times during that span.

Grayson Flittner led the way with 22 points and hit a critical 3 midway through the first half that opened the Bulldogs' lead to 26-10.

Kentucky cut the deficit to seven less than 3 minutes later on a long jumper by Joe Crawford, but would get no closer.

Crawford, a senior guard and regular starter last year, didn't crack the starting lineup for the second straight game under Gillispie despite leading the team with 20 points Tuesday against Central Arkansas.

Gardner-Webb led 38-27 at halftime, and Sanders began the second half with a three-point play to put the Wildcats deeper into a hole.

Gillispie opened his tenure as Kentucky coach Tuesday night with a 67-40 victory over Central Arkansas. The former Texas A&M coach took over the Wildcats after Tubby Smith left for Minnesota.

Gillispie was far more animated Tuesday night. Against Gardner-Webb, he just knelt on the sideline and shook his head. Afterward, he walked down the sideline to shake hands with each of the opposing players.

Although the Rupp Arena fans mildly applauded their support when the final horn sounded, the boo-birds came out early when the game appeared to be slipping away.

Among the lone bright spots for Kentucky were its two heralded freshmen, power forward Patrick Patterson and guard Alex Legion.

Legion tried to single-handedly carry the Wildcats midway through the second half, hitting three 3-pointers and making a key steal in just over 2 minutes.

Patterson had 12 points and a game-high 12 rebounds, including 10 in the first half that accounted for half the Wildcats' total.

``They came to play,'' Patterson said of Gardner-Webb. ``Obviously we didn't.''

Ramel Bradley led all scorers by tying a career high with 24 points and going 14-for-14 from the foul line.

But every time Kentucky made a basket, the Bulldogs seemed to make a bigger one.

``We just got our tails whipped,'' Gillispie said.