Editor’s Note: UNC Asheville Associate Athletic Director Mike Gore will be traveling with the men’s basketball team throughout the season. Throughout the year, he will be doing a blog to give Bulldog fans a background look at this year’s team. Today’s blog also talks about the women’s basketball incredible win over Furman on Saturday.
The men’s basketball team walks to Rupp Arena from its hotel and arrives five minutes later ready to play the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats.
Everyone at Rupp is friendly and does anything they can to help you. It’s obviously the fans, administration and everyone involved with the “Big Blue Nation” is excited about this year’s Kentucky team. Head Coach John Calipari has brought in one of the greatest recruiting classes of all time. People are comparing it to the “Fab Five” from Michigan 20 years or some of UCLA’s recruiting classes when John Wooden was coaching there in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
The arena fills up quickly but our guys seemed focused and ready. They don’t seem to be in awe of the situation.
The game finally starts at 7:07 p.m., thanks to TV. We get off to a good start and take the lead early on three different times. We’re getting back on defense and doing a pretty good job on the boards.
But Kentucky shows its explosiveness midway through the first half. We lead by one. Get called for a foul that sends the Wildcats to the line. They make the first free throw, miss the second, get a rebound, score again and get fouled, miss the free throw, get the rebound, knock down a long three-pointer. Another trey follows on the next possession and suddenly we’re down 10.
But to our credit, we don’t let that phase us. We even get the lead down to six several times. Sophomore Will Weeks is having a monster first-half. Will scores 15 points in the first and is going back-door to beat the Wildcats. One such play brings a quick time-out from Coach Calipari.
We trail at halftime 41-31. And considering how young we are tonight, we don’t feel too bad. Missed a bunch of free throws, including two front ends of one-and-ones that could have made things even closer.
The new rules in college basketball are making an impact right away. Kentucky shoots 31 free throws in the first half and really there are no complaints from us about the way the game is being called. The Wildcats are going to the basket hard, and we’re fouling them.
The radio broadcast is going well, and I’m lucky enough to be joined by our AD Janet Cone for color. She provides some great points throughout the first half. We’re both a little worried about Kentucky in the second half. They didn’t play great in the first half of both of their exhibition games before exploding in the second half.
We score the first three points of the second half to cut the lead to seven. But then Kentucky takes things up an extra notch and steadily increases the margin. Our guys keep battling but we just don’t’ have enough to keep up with the Wildcats. And that’s something that will happen to a lot of Kentucky opponents this season.
The final score is 89-57 and a little disappointed with the final margin. It was a little closer than that but there are some bright spots. Will Weeks finishes with 19 points. D.J. Cunningham grabs 10 rebounds. Freshman Andrew Rowsey has 11 points. We only had five turnovers in the second half.
Nick McDevitt handles his post-game press conference great. I’ve been doing this 28 years and it may the most people I’ve ever seen for a post-game media interview for a visiting coach. Maybe the times we’ve been in the NCAA Tournament but I’m not sure I’ve seen this much media. Nick does a good job answering questions from the media.
The drive home is long as we pull into Kimmel Arena parking lot after 3 a.m. A disappointing loss but not discouraging as there was some stuff to build on for Monday’s game at Western Carolina.
The next morning comes quickly as the women’s basketball team gets ready for its home opener against Furman.
Everyone is excited to see Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick’s second Bulldog team. We’re healthy for the first time in her tenure and have a great recruiting class coming into the fold.
The game starts our fast and furious. We lead most of the first half as freshman center KJ Weaver is making an immediate impact with blocked shots and rebounds. She makes a great post move to score late in the first half.
Brittan Gwyn knocks down back-to-back treys and we lead 34-30 at halftime.
The second half starts out, and suddenly we lead by 10 early in the second half on another Gwyn three-pointer. But then we go ice cold. Furman scores the next 15 points and we trail by five.
But the Bulldogs hang in there and don’t let Furman build on the lead. However, we trail by six with under five minutes left. And now we make a run. We hit some big free throws and lead 65-61 with two minutes remaining.
The Paladins bounce back with four straight points to tie the game at 65-65. And they have the ball with 9.4 seconds left with a chance to win. We need to get a stop to get into overtime.
But overtime never happens. Our defense does a great job and makes Furman take a tough shot. With a loose ball on the floor, Gwyn comes down with the rebound. She somehow gets it to sophomore Paige Love.
Paige lets go off a shot from just beyond half-court. It looks good coming out of her hand and looks even better as it get closer to the basket. Shockingly, it banks in and goes in!!!!!
We believe we’ve won 68-65 and the place goes bedlam. The officials have to look at the replay and make sure the shot was good.
They confer, look at a replay and call the shot good!!! What a win!!!
While it’s an incredible win, there’s so much to be pleased about on Saturday. Against a good Furman team, our young team doesn’t crack. Paige Love, who has worked so hard since the day she got here two years ago, gets a moment she’ll never forget. Brittany Gwyn plays in her first opening game in two years and is sensational all over the court. Our freshmen played well. Shonese Jones has 14 points.
Our women’s team will have its ups-and-downs this year, but I think we will always look back to this special day as the day the Bulldog women’s program turned around for good.