Another Cinderella Born In Lexington

By Josh Herwitt - November 07, 2007


So much for Billy Gillispie getting that honeymoon vacation in the Big Apple next week.

The former Texas A&M coach, instead, will be watching Gardner-Webb play under the lights of the world famous Madison Square Garden next Thursday after shocking No. 20 Kentucky Wednesday night at Rupp Arena with a 84-68 upset in the second round of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic.

And after taking the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons, Gillispie certainly didn't want to start his tenure in Lexington this way.

But for the last five minutes of the game and following the sound of the final horn, it was a constant stream of boos for the Wildcats, who never found a rhythm against the Runnin' Bulldogs after falling behind by double digits at halftime with the scoreboard reading 38-27.

"A lot of people will think this is a misprint, but I hope not," Gardner-Webb coach Rick Scruggs said. "I hope they get to see it and can enjoy it. It's going to take a few days to settle in."

Gardner-Webb, after all, finished last season at just 9-21 overall while tying for seventh place in the Atlantic Sun Conference -- not exactly the kind of resume that would hint at a potential upset over a traditional blue blood like Kentucky in the first week of the season.

Yet while senior guard Ramel Bradley seemed to score at will in tallying a game-high 24 points for Kentucky, it was really Gardner-Webb's Grayson Flittner who stole the show, knocking down 3-of-6 threes and finishing 7-for-10 from the floor for a team-high 22 points.

Senior forward Thomas Sanders, meanwhile, proved to be an offensive force for the Bulldogs as well, going toe-to-toe in the paint with Patrick Patterson by posting 21 points and 10 rebounds against the freshman forward's 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Aaron Linn and Nate Blank were the other two Gardner-Webb players to score in double figures, with Linn recording 15 points on 5-of-8 field goals -- he grabbed eight rebounds, too -- and Blank finishing with 12 points.

Alex Legion dropped in 13 points for Kentucky, which fell behind early, 14-0, and couldn't get on the scoreboard until the 15:32 mark in the first half with a stunned, yet boisterous crowd of 19,845 looking on.

That reaction from the Lexington faithful, of course, is to be understood since most people assumed that the Wildcats would be playing in the semifinals in New York City next week with No. 3 Memphis, UConn and Oklahoma also expected to be there.

But the fact is, Kentucky is just not that good. If the Wildcats played in the Pac-10 or the Big East, I'm betting they wouldn't even finish among the top five in either conference. And you can hold me to that, too.

I mean, if the Wildcats can't even beat -- better yet not get blown out on its home floor -- by a team that was picked by the media and coaches to finish eighth in the Atlantic Sun this year, then how can they really compete with teams like UCLA, Oregon, Washington State, Georgetown, Louisville and Villanova?

You think I'm writing Kentucky off already?

Well, truth be told, a 4,000-student school 50 miles west of Charlotte in Boiling Springs, N.C., rather than a program that has amassed the most wins in college basketball history and chocked up seven national championships, is headed to The City That Never Sleeps to play with the big boys on a "national" stage.

It's there where Gardner-Webb will face the winner of tomorrow night's game between Buffalo, a 89-82 winner over Ohio Valley, and UConn, which escaped tonight at home against Morgan State with a 69-65 victory in the Storrs Regional.

So when the first semifinal matchup is finally decided at the end of tomorrow, could we really see Gardner-Webb playing Buffalo in the Garden next Thursday?

After all, wouldn't the Gazelle Group and ESPN love that!

Still, it's certainly possible after the way UConn played tonight, and with the exhibition upsets that we've already seen in East Lansing, Mich., and Columbus, Ohio, there's just no telling what will transpire over the next five months in college basketball.

Posted by Josh Herwitt at 11:15 PM on November 07, 2007
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