Scott Sanderson expected the best Saturday when he took his Lipscomb men’s basketball team to Rupp Arena for a game against the Kentucky.
That’s exactly what he got – from the fans.
“We've been to a lot of places in my career at Lipscomb, but the Kentucky fan base, not even close, is the best fan base in the country because they come to see Kentucky,” he said. “They don't care who they're playing. … They're respectful of the opponents they play, but there's a difference with Kentucky basketball.
“ … I think this is the greatest environment in college basketball that there is to play in.”
Sanderson was somewhat less impressed by the performance of the Wildcats players, whom he felt did not always give their best effort. UK coach John Calipari echoed the sentiment even though his team defeated the Bisons 88-50 before a crowd of 21,323.
“I'm not trying to be disrespectful at all, but at the start of the second half Kentucky wasn't ready to play,” Sanderson said. “They weren't ready to play, and they gave us every opportunity.”
Lipscomb (4-5) was not the only local team that got the chance to play at one of college basketball’s most venerable venues Saturday.
Belmont was at Allen Fieldhouse to face ninth-ranked Kansas in a matchup of the only two NCAA Division I teams that have won 12 or more conference games each of the last 10 seasons.
The Bruins (7-3) never gave themselves a chance at victory, though, because they failed to do well what they typically do best. They made just eight of 38 3-point attempts (21.1 percent) and fell 89-60 in front of 16,300.
"I think everyone in our locker room is a little embarrassed,” coach Rick Byrd said. “We are not embarrassed about the Belmont basketball program, but by the performance [Saturday] night and Kansas had a lot to do with that. We're just disappointed.
“We feel our program is at the stage where very often we give people like this all they want and occasionally sneak a win. We want to get to the point where we are winning a few more, but we could just not make this game competitive.”
Belmont made just one of its first eight 3-point attempts and four of 17 in the first half, which ended with the Jayhawks in front 44-28. The Bruins were 4-for-21 on 3-pointers in the second half and got no closer than 20 points over the final 17:51.
The shooting problems were exacerbated by the fact that Kansas made a season-high 10 3-pointers on 21 attempts (47.6 percent). Ben McLemore made the first five minutes into the contest, and the Jayhawks quickly jumped to a 7-0 lead. Likewise, McLemore scored the first points of the second half – again on a 3-pointer.
McLemore and Travis Releford each scored a team-high 17 points for Kansas. Trevor Noack, the only Belmont player to make more than one 3-pointer – he was 3-for-8 – led all scorers with 19 points.
“Their defense was so good it affected our shooting numbers, our defense was so poor that if affected theirs in the opposite direction,” Byrd said. “… Our game plan was we had to help out at the post and try to stop their drive. They made their shots. We were trying to hang in the first half and they kept making those shots.”
Lipscomb never led either but cut a 14-point halftime deficit to 10 three times in the first 3:05 of the second half. The last was when Martin Smith’s jumper made it 48-38.
Kentucky then called a timeout and followed with a 17-1 run that effectively sealed the outcome.
Smith scored 18 points and Stephen Hurt had a double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds) for the Bisons. Kentucky’s Kyle Wiltjer led all scorers with 23 points off the bench.
“We score a couple of baskets in a row, they called a timeout and they do what good teams are supposed to do,” Sanderson said. “They come back and respond, and when they responded we didn't.
“I understand how that plays out, and how we were playing the first few minutes was good, but we didn't finish the last 16 minutes. That's a growing process for us, for our team and our level just like it's a growing process for Kentucky in the SEC.”
But not for its fans.