UK has been selected to play in the National Invitation Tournament, extending the Wildcats' streak of postseason appearances to 18. UK (20-13) earned a No. 4 seed and will face fifth-seeded UNLV (21-10) on Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum. The game will be televised live on ESPN.
"It's a great tournament with a great deal of tradition and we're going to be excited to play and we're going to play our best," UK Coach Billy Gillispie said. "It's a very difficult tournament and we've got a very difficult draw."
The Wildcats own a 3-0 all-time advantage against the Runnin' Rebels and it will be the first meeting with UNLV since UK won 64-61 in the second round of the 1985 NCAA Tournament.
"Coach (Lon) Kruger is one of the best coaches anywhere," Gillispie said. "He's been great everywhere he's been. We have the utmost respect for them. If you watch all of those shows and all that kind of stuff, I'm sure they're disappointed about not being in the NCAA Tournament because they're definitely worthy of being in there. I know that they'll be ready to play on Tuesday night and it'll be a real tough opponent for us."
The NIT is the oldest tournament in college basketball, but it's a place the Wildcats haven't visited all that frequently. It's UK's seventh appearance in the tournament and first since losing to Clemson in the first round of the 1979 NIT, the only other time UK has hosted an NIT game. The Wildcats have four top-three finishes, including two titles in 1946 and 1976.
Maybe the NIT was not UK's ultimate goal at the beginning of the year, but it could be a building block for next year's team. The tournament has proven to be a springboard for teams in the past as 13 teams who finished in the top four of the NIT have gone on to make the NCAA Final Four the next year. UK conquered the task when it won the national championship in 1945, just a year after finishing fourth in the NIT.
"Every Division I team wants to be in the NCAA Tournament in the country and we're no different than anyone else," Gillispie said. "Every single team has their opportunities to play their way into the NCAA Tournament. The ones that get there they deserve it and the ones that didn't get there don't deserve to play in the NCAA Tournament. That's obviously every team's goal.
"We've not played well enough to be considered for that tournament. We're very excited about playing in the postseason. We've got a lot of players on our team that have never played any postseason games and we've got a lot of guys who have played very, very limited postseason minutes."
If the Wildcats defeat UNLV on Tuesday, UK will play the winner of Creighton and Bowling Green. That game could be as early as Thursday or as late as March 23 (possible second-round dates are March 19, 20, 21 and 23).
The host of each site is determined by the higher seed, so UK could host the second round if Bowling Green defeats Creighton. If the Wildcats navigate through the 32-team tournament and make it to the semifinals, they'll make a trip to Madison Square Garden in New York.
Returning to the NIT will also mark the return to Memorial Coliseum, where the Wildcats called home from 1950 to 1976. UK was dominant during its stay at Memorial, posting 306 wins to just 38 losses.
"It's one of my favorite places I've ever seen," Gillispie said. "Just thinking about all the history and all the players that have played, all the coaches and all the teams that have performed there, I think it's going to be an exciting time for us. I hope that we have great support during the game. We're going to take it like it's a new beginning."
NIT Central Website - http://www.ukathletics.com/sports/m-baskbl/spec-rel/031509aab.html
NIT Website - http://www.nit.org/
Fans can purchase tickets beginning Sunday evening by ordering online at Ticketmaster.com or by calling Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000. All public tickets for the first round at Memorial Coliseum are $33 each. Everyone must have a ticket regardless of age and tickets will be sold on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Starting Monday, tickets will also be available by calling the UK Ticket Office at (800) 928-2287 or ordering in person at the UK Ticket Office in the Joe Craft Center from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fans can visit any statewide Ticketmaster outlet (i.e. Kroger, etc.).
Tickets for students are $5 each and are available for full-time UK students and BCTC students who have paid their athletics fee for the spring semester. Student tickets will be available at the Joe Craft Center Ticket Office beginning Monday at 8 a.m. Tickets will be sold on a first-come, first serve basis and there is a limit of one ticket per valid student ID. Students must present their student ID and ticket to be admitted to the game.
NIT: UK hosts UNLV in Memorial
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