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Kentucky Falls To VMI In Season Opener

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Billy Gillispie didn't mention
Gardner-Webb, but his postgame assessment was verbatim from the
last time his Kentucky team was shocked like this.
"They whipped us," Gillispie said of the Wildcats' 111-103
upset to Virginia Military Institute Friday night.
The upset came just over a year after Gardner-Webb's 84-68
stunner over the Wildcats in Gillispie's second game as coach. The
sequel came in the opener of year two, which was supposed to be a
tuneup for the Wildcats' trip to No. 1 North Carolina next week.
After spending a season trying to live down the fact that they
got "Gardner-Webbed," perhaps it's time to change the moniker. In
many respects, this one was worse for college basketball's all-time
winningest program.
VMI's shoot-first approach was lethal to Kentucky's youthful
backcourt. Not since 1989 against North Carolina had a Kentucky
team given up so many points, although it was also the first time
in five years the Wildcats had passed the century mark.
"Credit to my kids, they just went out and did it and
believed," said VMI coach Duggar Baucom.
Travis Holmes led six Keydets in double-digits with 30 points
and was beaming afterward.
"We haven't beaten a big team since I got here," Holmes said.
"We tried to prepare for them as much as we could, but it's
indescribable. I've never experienced anything like this."
Even a 39-point effort from Kentucky's Jodie Meeks - nearly
double his career high of 21 - wasn't enough to keep pace.
"It's always damaging when you lose," Meeks said. "This team
doesn't have a lack of confidence. We have to put this behind us."
The Keydets haven't had a winning season since 1997-98, the year
Kentucky won the last of its seven national titles. VMI, picked by
coaches to finish seventh in the Big South this year, last topped a
major conference team on Dec. 4, 2004, with a 72-66 win over
Virginia Tech.
Kentucky's history had been the opposite. It hadn't lost a home
game to a mid-major since 2001, but now it's happened twice in two
years.
"They outfought us," Gillispie said. "They got all the loose
balls and out-hustled us."
The Keydets took an 83-60 lead, their largest of the game, on
Keith Gabriel's 3-pointer with 14:10 to go. It was VMI's 13th
3-pointer of the game, but the next wouldn't come until 10 minutes
later.
In between was a furious Kentucky comeback.
Down 90-73 with 11 minutes to go, Kentucky scored the next 19
points - nine of them by Meeks - to cut the deficit to 1.
The Wildcats tied the game at 95 with 5 minutes left on Perry
Stevenson's tip-in and took their first lead on Ramon Harris' layup
seconds later.
But the Keydets had one last run left, and it was too much.
After Kentucky's Patrick Patterson hit a layup to pull the Wildcats
to 104-103, the Keydets scored the final 7 points to ice the game.
Patterson, UK's star center, finished with only 8 points.
"It's just frustrating playing behind and playing pickup,
hoping their shots wouldn't go down," Patterson said. "But their
shots went down."
Kentucky was sloppy early, racking up 13 of its 25 turnovers in
the first 11 minutes. That, coupled with the Keydets' apparent
inability to miss a 3-pointer - good on 7 of their first 8 attempts
- made for an anxious first half for the capacity Rupp Arena crowd.
VMI jumped out to a 14-3 lead three minutes in and stretched
their advantage to 42-21 at the 10-minute mark after two free
throws from Willie Bell.
Then the tide seemed to turn for the Wildcats, albeit briefly.
The Keydets finally started misfiring from long range, connecting
on only one of seven attempts the rest of the half, and Kentucky
finally started showing signs of offensive life.
The Wildcats strung together three straight dunks in less than a
minute, including one apiece by Perry Stevenson and Meeks. The
highlight came from freshman guard Darius Miller, who grabbed
Meeks' missed 3-pointer out of the air and slammed it home.
Kentucky trailed 57-47 at halftime, but VMI made its first two
3s of the second half to stretch its lead. VMI's game plan had
called for 50 three-point shots. Instead, it attempted 31, making
14.
"Their guys were on the court just as long as we were,"
Gillispie said. "I don't buy into the theory of a team wearing
themselves out more than the other team. We didn't pay attention to
the details and missed assignments. I attribute this loss mostly to
lack of leadership."


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