Kentucky freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has never played against Western Kentucky, but he’ll know plenty about one Western player if the Hilltoppers advance to play the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament.
Surprising Western changed coaches as midseason and had a losing record going into Sun Belt Conference Tournament play. However, the Hilltoppers beat North Texas in the tourney title game and now play Mississippi Valley State in Dayton Tuesday night with the survivor advancing to play No. 1 Kentucky Thursday in Louisville.
“He’s a good friend and a good player,” said Kidd-Gilchrist after Kentucky beat Florida on Saturday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament in New Orleans. “It would be nice in one way to play him since we played together in high school.¿I don’t know much about Western, but I¿know he’s good. He does a lot of things.”
Gordon, a 6-2 guard, averages a team-high 6.7 rebounds per game and is second on the team with 69 assists. He’s hitting 36.4 percent from the field, including only 28 percent (25-for-89) from 3-point range. He’s averaged 12.9 points per game during Western’s win streak and shot 58 percent from the field. He’s played 30 minutes in 28 games this season.
He made an immediate impact with Western with 25 points against St. Joseph’s in his first game and had 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists against Louisville in 38 minutes on Dec. 23.
Another freshman, George Fant of Bowling Green, adds 10.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.
Another familiar name to UK fans is freshman Vinny Zollo of Clark County. He committed to Kentucky when Billy Gillispie was the head coach. He averages 3.7 points and 3.0 rebounds per game.
Western takes a six-game win streak, its best of the season, into Tuesday’s play-in game and will be making its 22nd NCAA appearance.
The Hilltoppers (15-18) lost 76-57 to LSU. They also lost to three NCAA teams — Louisville (70-60), Murray State (70-59) and VCU¿(68-45).
Mississippi Valley State (21-12) has a familiar ring to Kentucky fans, too. Former Wildcat Sean Woods, who 20 years ago hit the go-ahead shot that set the stage for Christian Laettner’s game-winning shot for Duke, is the head coach and he brought his team to Rupp Arena to play last year.
His team played another a non-conference schedule that included road losses to NCAA tourney teams Notre Dame, North Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin and Iowa State. The Delta Devils also lost at DePaul, South Carolina, Arkansas, Northwestern and Ole Miss.
The team’s best players are 6-8 center Paul Crosby and 6-3 guard Terrence Joyner. Crosby averages 13.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game and is a 40 percent shooter from the field. Joyner adds 13.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game.
Cor-J Cox, a 6-5 guard, contributes 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. He is a 50 percent shooter from the field.