Wildcats To Return To Lexington After Early NCAA Exit

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - Jerel McNeal and Marquette cut short Kentucky's record 49th NCAA tournament appearance.

McNeal scored 20 points and Wesley Matthews hit eight free throws in the final 31 seconds to help the Golden Eagles beat the Wildcats 74-66 in the first round of the South Regional on Thursday.

Marquette overcame 35 points by Kentucky senior Joe Crawford, who matched a career high before fouling out. Ramel Bradley added 19 for the Wildcats.

Sixth-seeded Marquette (25-9) earned its first NCAA tournament victory since 2003, when it beat Kentucky in the regional final to go to the Final Four.

Marquette had too many weapons against the out manned Wildcats (18-13), who played without leading rebounder and No. 2 scorer Patrick Patterson. Kentucky went 2-3 after losing the star freshman to a season-ending ankle injury.

As it turned out, Crawford was almost enough for the Wildcats.

Kentucky cut it to 66-63 on Crawford's 3-pointer from the top of the key with 38 seconds left.

After Matthews hit two free throws, Bradley hit a 3-pointer from the corner to get the Wildcats within two with 22 seconds remaining.

Matthews made two more free throws, then stole the ball and hit two more from the line to ice the game.

Crawford hit 13 of 22 shots from the floor while his teammates went 10-for-26. He hit 5-of-8 from beyond the arc and 4-of-8 at the line.

Kentucky trailed 33-29 at halftime, but Crawford opened the second half by scoring the Wildcats' first seven points, on a 3-pointer, a put back and a layup to tie it at 36-36.

That's when the Golden Eagles awoke.

They went on a 9-2 run, sparked by Lazar Hayward's thunderous dunk off a feed from McNeal.

Six minutes into the half, Marquette took its biggest lead, 45-38, when McNeal scooped up a blocked shot and raced the length of the court for a layup.

Kentucky trailed 54-43 midway through the second half when Crawford went on a personal 6-0 run, scoring on a three-point play and then hitting from beyond the arc to pull the Wildcats within five points.

The Wildcats and Golden Eagles met for the 10th time in the NCAA tourney's most-played match up. Marquette is 6-4 in the series.

Both tradition-laden teams were hitting their stride as the postseason began.

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 semifinals. Kentucky overcame a 7-9 start, including a loss to Gardner-Webb, and won 11 of its last 14 to slip into the bracket.

Bradley and Crawford combined to score 21 of Kentucky's 29 first-half points.

Patterson's loss was most evident under the boards. He led Kentucky in rebounding, and Marquette exploited his absence, out-rebounding Kentucky 21-15 in the first half.

Marquette attacked the basket from the start, scoring 14 of its first 17 points in the paint.

Marquette went on a 12-0 run midway through the first half to take a 16-10 lead. But the Wildcats rallied to tie it at 23 on a fast break dunk by Crawford off an alley-oop pass from Bradley.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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  • by LOUISVILLEFAN Location: MT STERLING on Mar 24, 2008 at 08:45 AM
  • by Mike Location: Collins on Mar 23, 2008 at 07:17 PM
    This was a fun season to watch. It was a rebuilding year, and coach G did great with them!!!!! Im proud of the cats, and proud to claim Gillispie as being our new coach. Next year theyre going to do great!!!
  • by Jennifer Location: Somerset on Mar 22, 2008 at 06:15 PM
    I think gillepsie has done a great job this year, and i can not wait to see how well he does with patterson for next season, but even with loosing one of there star players to an injury, they still came through and did great , as far as im concerned they are winners, GOOD JOB GILLEPSIE AND GO CATS!!!!
  • by Granny Location: KY on Mar 22, 2008 at 05:02 PM
    I am so proud of the job our COACH has done this year he was I think the fans need to back him and just wait until next year. Way to go team and coach!!!!!
  • by Alex Location: Lexington on Mar 22, 2008 at 10:30 AM
    I really agree with BIG BLUE THROUGH AND THROUGH!! I wish ALL Cat fans, would finally see that Coach G is the man!!!
  • by Shelley Location: Eastern KY on Mar 21, 2008 at 05:58 PM
    Right on Gene, I agree with you!!!!!
  • by karen Location: pike county on Mar 21, 2008 at 05:21 PM
    I just can't believe a team has practiced and played since oct. 15 and only have 6 or 7 players to play a game, that is silly. That is a coaches job, even if there are injuries to key players. Thank you Crawford and Bradley for sticking it out. Best of luck in the future
  • by Anonymous on Mar 21, 2008 at 03:27 PM
    "I just can't keep from wondering where we would be right now if Travis Ford was our coach or maybe John Pelfrey" - Probably in the NIT, if we were lucky...
  • by BIG BLUE THROUGH AND THROUGH Location: ASHLAND on Mar 21, 2008 at 02:54 PM
    I really hate to see Crawford and Bradley leave, they have grown so much under the direction of Billy G. I'm not dogging Tubby, but it is obvious that he couldn't bring out the best in players. I wish ALL Cat fans would finally admit it. I belive that Joe will have a NBA career, and so could Ramal. (THANKS TO OUR NEW COACH). I'm looking forward to next year, I just know the BEST is yet to come!! May God guide and be with our two seniors as they venture out into the world. GO BIG BLUE!!! P.S. congratulations Coach G on SEC coach of the year!! (NO co-coach in my book)
  • by #1 CAT FAN Location: NORTHEAST KENTUCKY on Mar 21, 2008 at 01:24 PM
    I hated to see the CATS go out in the first round, but you have to give it up to Joe and Ramal what a pair of seniors!! I really wish we could have these guys back next year, they have really grown under coach Gillispie. He's the man!! Everybody just wait, this coach is the BEST thing that has ever happened to KENTUCKY!! I wish the VERY BEST to Joe and Ramal in the future. I'm sure we'll be seeing them play in the NBA!!
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