Just one week ago, the Kentucky Wildcats pulled a minor upset by toppling No. 1 Michigan State in the Champions Classic. While it is never surprising when one of the country’s best college basketball programs gets a win on a big stage, Kentucky was impressive and, from there, the Wildcats crushed Eastern Kentucky by a 42-point margin in their second game of the 2019-20 campaign.
On Tuesday, Kentucky was supposed to have another breezy evening as the No. 1 team in the nation, entering a home match-up with the Evansville Purple Aces as 25-point favorites at Rupp Arena. Forty minutes later, though, it was Evansville — whose head coach is none other than former Kentucky standout Walter McCarty — that left Lexington with a wild upset victory.
The Wildcats had a chance to send the game into overtime at the buzzer, but the attempt from deep did not fall, making the visitors the first team in 52 games to win as an unranked opponent at Rupp. Beyond that, this was Evansville’s first win over a No. 1-ranked team in program history and, to illustrate the unlikelihood of what transpired, Ken Pomeroy’s projection model gave Kentucky a staggering 99 percent chance to hold serve at home. Even McCarty seemed a bit surprise that his program took down his alma mater.
"I told them if they win tonight, party at my house. Now I'm like nooooo." Great moment with @waltermccarty after Evansville knocks of No. 1 Kentucky.
— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) November 13, 2019
K.J. Riley led the way for the Purple Aces with 18 points, including a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line, while Sam Cunliffe added 17 points and six rebounds. On the Kentucky side, Immanuel Quickley (16 points, nine rebounds) and Tyrese Maxey (15 points) enjoyed productive nights but, as a team, the Wildcats shot just 37 percent from the floor and 23.5 percent from beyond the three-point arc. In a stunning turn of events, Kentucky also allowed 11 offensive rebounds to an Evansville team at an immense size and athleticism disadvantage and, in the end, extra possessions contributed to the result.
Kentucky has a soft schedule until mid-December before things ramp up, giving Calipari time to reset his team. Still, Tuesday’s match-up could have been described as a favorable one, although Evansville cared not for the pregame expectations.