ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - For the Kentucky Wildcats, reaching the
NCAA tournament for a record 49th time is the highlight of a
And the low point?
"We lost to - what was the name of that school again?" senior
guard Ramel Bradley said Wednesday, looking to teammate Joe
Crawford for help.
"Gardner-Webb," Crawford said.
"We lost to Gardner-Webb," Bradley said. "You're like, this
is ridiculous. Things can't get any worse at Kentucky. But then
when you lose again to ..."
"San Diego," Crawford said.
"San Diego, it can get worse," Bradley said.
It's no wonder Bradley struggled to remember. Those losses came
in November and December, an eternity ago in college basketball.
The 11th-seeded Wildcats (18-12) are a different team as they
prepare to face sixth-seeded Marquette (24-9) in the South Regional
opening round Thursday. The Wildcats surged into the postseason,
and they'll try to keep rolling without freshman forward Patrick
Patterson, their leading rebounder and No. 2 scorer.
"We know we're going to have a great battle with Kentucky,"
Marquette coach Tom Crean said. "There's really not a lot of
Both teams struggled through uneven stretches and appear to be
peaking at the right time.
"They definitely remind us a lot of us," Kentucky forward
Perry Stevenson said.
Marquette opened 6-5 in the Big East but went 8-3 overall down
the stretch, losing to eventual champion Pittsburgh in the Big East
The Golden Eagles have a balanced attack, with four starters
averaging at least 11 points per game.
"Just the way we play, we push the ball, we throw it ahead,
everybody touches it," guard Wesley Matthews said.
The Wildcats were 7-9 before they beat then-No. 3 Tennessee
72-66 on Jan. 22. Kentucky won 11 of its last 14, and one of the
losses came by three points at Tennessee and another in overtime
against Georgia in the tornado-ravaged Southeastern Conference
The Wildcats teetered on the bubble for weeks before squeezing
into the NCAA field. First-year coach Billy Gillispie said his team
had to show tournament toughness in a series of close calls near
the end of the year.
"I think that's something that really bodes well for you, for
your postseason opportunities and postseason chances," he said.
Still, the Wildcats view themselves as underdogs in this game,
an unlikely role for a storied program.
"I think that's the best place to be in, when no one believes
in you and you just have to believe in yourself and just come all
together as a team," Bradley said.
The Golden Eagles aren't buying it.
"I mean, Kentucky?" Marquette guard Dominic James said. "I've
never heard of Kentucky being the underdog. They're one of the most
prestigious schools in basketball."
Indeed, the cover of the Wildcats' postseason media guide touts
"the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball."
High seeds are a part of that tradition. Playing on the West
This is only the second time Kentucky has played in the NCAA
tournament in Southern California. The last time, they lost to UCLA
and John Wooden in the 1975 national final in San Diego.
Kentucky opened that tourney with a 22-point rout of Marquette,
which would win the national title two years later.
That was a different era in college hoops. Times have changed,
but expectations at Kentucky haven't.
Asked to define what Kentucky fans expect from their team,
Stevenson said. "Seven championships in six years."
Only a diehard would expect the Wildcats to win it all this
year. In some ways, simply reaching the tourney is a victory for
"I think this time making the tournament is even more special
because of where we came from in the beginning of the year,"
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)