Calipari sees NIT as learning lesson

Kentucky coach John Calipari says the Wildcats will use their NIT experience as a learning tool and a potential springboard for what is expected to be a strong bounce-back season in 2013-14.

The champs will not have an opportunity to defend their crown.

As a result of Friday's loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament, Kentucky was unable to secure a bid to the NCAA field and must settle instead for the National Invitational Tournament.

"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 through a statement released by the school. "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."

The Wildcats (21-11) received the No. 1 overall seed for the NIT, but in a strange turn of events will go on the road to play eighth-seeded Robert Morris in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. Due to prior commitments with NCAA second- and third-round games being played at Rupp Arena, UK was unable to be a host site for the NIT.

Kentucky will be making its ninth appearance in the NIT, holding a 13-6 all-time record. The Cats last played in the NIT during the 2009 season, reaching the quarterfinals before falling 77-67 at Notre Dame.

Robert Morris (23-10) saw its NCAA hopes fade in its loss to Mount St. Mary's in the Northeast Conference Tournament semifinals. The Colonials, who were regular season conference champs, will now take aim at one of college basketball's most tradition-rich programs on their home floor at the Sewall Center, which seats only 3,056. Tipoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. ET Tuesday on ESPN.

The game will also be a homecoming of sorts for UK head coach John Calipari, who grew up in Pittsburgh.

"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."

Robert Morris is the type of team that has given UK trouble all season. The Colonials average 8.6 3-point field goals per game, which ranks eighth nationally, and 9.1 steals per game, which ranks 14th nationally. If they were to get hot from behind the arc on their home floor – where the boast a 12-3 record this season – it could be yet another difficult experience for the young Cats.

If Kentucky gets past Robert Morris, the Cats will likely return to Lexington to play the winner of Providence (4) versus Charlotte (5).

Also featured in UK's region is No. 2 seed Baylor, a potential rematch for the Cats. The Bears shocked UK 64-55 in Rupp Arena on Dec. 1, handing Calipari his first home loss since coming to Lexington in 2009.

The NIT will conclude 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.

Calipari said UK will use the NIT as a springboard for what is expected to be a strong bounce-back 2013-14 season. The Cats have the nation's No. 1 recruiting class in place and will be expected to return as a top contender next year.

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