LEXINGTON — Kentucky's inconsistent play this year has left the Wildcats without a chance to defend their national championship.
There was a no at-large NCAA tournament bid for the young Kentucky squad that could not overcome injuries, sporadic guard play and a lack of leadership.
A 16-point loss in Friday's must-win game in the Southeastern Conference tournament against Vanderbilt a few miles from the Commodores' Nashville campus sealed the fate of the Wildcats, who were left out of the 68-team field.
Later Sunday, they were made the No. 1 seed in the National Invitation Tournament field and will play Robert Morris in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night at 7:30. The Wildcats had to play away because Rupp Arena is the site for this week’s South Region on Thursday and Saturday.
Kentucky (21-11) becomes the 20th national champion to miss the tournament the following season, according to Stats LLC.
That reality set in Sunday for the Wildcats, who hoped they had done enough to get a tournament invitation but knew they could be left watching by leaving it to the selection committee.
Despite their belief that they can beat anybody when playing as a team, Kentucky is left pondering a slew of what-ifs created by their failure to execute consistently.
The SEC quarterfinal loss to Vanderbilt symbolized Kentucky's deficiencies. In a game John Calipari said was a must-win needed to solidify an at-large bid, the coach watched his Wildcats "lay an egg."
Kentucky managed just 48 points against the Commodores, a squad it swept during the regular season and had scored 74 against just a few weeks ago.
Gone was the momentum from the Wildcats' signature win over Florida on March 9, as well as their case for returning to the tournament they dominated a year ago. Then again, inconsistency has been a common theme for a young team.