By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Billy Gillispie's mix of joy and relief at making the NCAA tournament didn't last long.
Oh, the usually reserved first-year Kentucky coach admits he got a little emotional after the Wildcats made the tournament for the 17th straight season. Moments after Kentucky's name flashed across the screen on Sunday night, Gillispie gave the Wildcats a speech guard Ramel Bradley likened to a father telling his sons he's proud of them.
Gillispie's sentimentality ended there, because he knows it's not enough for the Wildcats to make the field of 65. The seven NCAA championship banners hanging from the Rupp Arena rafters told him that.
By the time the tournament selection show ended, video coordinator Tim Asher was stockpiling game tape of sixth-seeded Marquette (24-9), Kentucky's opponent in the opening round of the South Region on Thursday in Anaheim, Calif.
It's a matchup Gillispie called "scary," particularly for the injury-ravaged Wildcats (18-12).
Kentucky will play without star freshman Patrick Patterson, who is out for the season with an ankle injury. The Wildcats could also be without guard Jodie Meeks, who has been limited to 11 games this year because of a stress fracture in his pelvis and a strained hip flexor.
Gillispie said during a teleconference on Monday that Meeks - the team's best shooter when healthy - will try to "give it a go."
Kentucky could use him to help the Wildcats keep up with Marquette's speedy backcourt of Dominic James and Jerel McNeal. The two combine for 27.3 points and more than two steals a game and can bury opponents in a flurry of shotmaking.
"They have great guards, they have really good role players that really carry out roles and they compete hard for every single play on both ends of the court," Gillispie said.
It's just another challenge for a team that's spent the year trying to overcome one obstacle after another, be it injuries or shocking losses to Gardner-Webb and San Diego.
The Wildcats rallied from their slow start behind a gritty determination they inherited from their coach. Though they'll be an underdog against Marquette, they're not worried about becoming the first Kentucky team in more than 20 years to be one and done in the tournament.
The last time Kentucky dropped a first-round game was in 1987, before most of the players on this year's team were born. Going home early isn't the kind of history Bradley and fellow senior Joe Crawford want to make in their final days with the Wildcats, not that they're worried about it.
After one of the more tumultuous seasons in recent memory, they think the Wildcats are ready for anything.
"We've been gaining a lot of steam, getting better," Bradley said. "That's the best thing for a team."
To beat the Golden Eagles - who knocked off Kentucky in the Midwest Regional Final in 2003 behind Dwyane Wade - the Wildcats will likely have to find a way to slow James and company down.
It's a task they think they're up for after a brutal Southeastern Conference season in which Kentucky went 12-4, with all of their conference wins coming by 10 points or less.
Still, Gillispie joked that as prepared as he expects his team to be, Marquette probably isn't the best first-round matchup for the Wildcats.
"If you could ask me who you would like to play, I would like to play a soft team that didn't play hard, that'd be the best," Gillispie said with a laugh.
No such luck for the Wildcats. Then again, they're used to it.
"We've faced a lot of great teams and we've had a lot of major undertakings and we haven't backed down from any one of them yet,"
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)