NCAA First Round Recap - Kentucky vs East Tennessee State
(1) Kentucky 100, (16) East Tennessee State 71
Kentucky (32-2, 14-2 SEC) is one of college basketball’s blue bloods. One might argue that Kentucky is THE college basketball blue blood. The Billy Gillispie era, however, brought a level of mediocrity to the Bluegrass State’s flagship university that it is not accustomed to.
Instead of competing for national championships, Gillispie's first sqaud of ’07-08 ended with a first round loss in the NCAA Tournament, after the Committee awarded the Wildcats a bid despite an 18-12 record. That season was the high point of Gillispie’s short tenure in Lexington, as the Wildcats went 20-13 and were left out of the Tournament in his second and final season as the head coach.
The first year of the John Calipari era has brought a resurgence of Kentucky basketball, much to the delight of the Big Blue faithful. Coach Cal brought with him a slew of big-time recruits, including consensus freshman of the Year John Wall and stud big man DeMarcus Cousins. Calipari was also able to convince Patrick Patterson to return, a key factor in UK’s huge one-year turnaround. This season's Kentucky team finished the regular season No. 2 in the nation after winning the SEC regular season and tournament championships, and it may be the most talented team in the nation, with apologies to the outstanding team from Lawrence, Kan.
At the opposite end of the tournament talent spectrum is East Tennessee State (20-14, 13-7 A-Sun). The Buccaneers snuck into the Tournament after a fifth-place finish in the A-Sun regular season by beating Mercer in the conference championship game. The boys from Johnson City, Tenn., were attempting to be the first-ever 16-seed to win a game in the Tournament since the field expanded to 64 teams. Despite their best efforts, the Bucs would not make history on Thursday.
ETSU began the game as if it might be able to hang around for a while. A Justin Tubbs 3-pointer just over four minutes into the game gave the Bucs a 10-9 lead. Kentucky, though, scored the next 14 points and never looked back. At halftime, the Wildcats had more than twice as many points as their overmatched opponents from the Tri Cities, leading 54-26. Kentucky took the foot off the gas in the second half and won by "only" 29 points.
Surprisingly, considering that Kentucky scored 100 points, only three players scored in double digits for UK. Eric Bledsoe, another outstanding Wildcat freshman, made 9 shots in only 11 attempts, including an amazing 8 out of 9 from 3-point range. Patrick Patterson scored 22 and John Wall added 17 for the Wildcats. Guard Micah Williams led ETSU in scoring with 19 points.
On Saturday, No. 1 seed Kentucky will take on the winner of 8-9 seed game between Texas and Wake Forest.
By John Cary
DFN Sports Guest Writer