Evansville Pulls Off Historic Upset against No.1 Kentucky

Kentucky coach John Calipari hiding his face during an embarrassing upset loss against Evansville
Source: Chicago Sun-Times

Kentucky coach John Calipari hiding his face during an embarrassing upset loss against Evansville Source: Chicago Sun-Times

Josh Hobbs

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On Tuesday, Evansville pulled off possibly the upset of the season in only the second game of the season. The Purple Aces marched into Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky with no fear and walked away with a 67-64 upset beating the bigger, stronger and easily more talented Wildcats at their own game. Evansville snapped a 52-game home winning streak for Kentucky against unranked opponents in Rupp Arena. With Kentucky’s loss on Tuesday, it marks the first time in the AP poll era that two No. 1 teams have lost in November.

“I’ve done this for 37 years, and things like this happen,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said after the game, “It’s what you do from here. We may say three weeks later that this is the best thing to happen to us. I’ve said it from Day 1: The whole thing with this team is toughness.”

Evansville dominated nearly the entire game, leading the Wildcats for nearly 30 minutes, compared to just 5:44 minutes for Kentucky. What stood out was how well the Purple Aces defended Wildcats. Despite being clearly the more talented and physical team, the Wildcats were both outrebounded 38-35, outassisted 10-6, and held to just 23.5% behind the three-point line. With 6.8 seconds remaining in the game, Evansville secured the victory with two clutch free throws from transfer forward, Sam Cunliffe, who joined the program this year. 

“It’s amazing,” Cunliffe said. “You come to a school like this and you talk about doing things like this and making history and playing in front of these bright lights. We prepared the right way. We had our mindset in the right spot that we could actually do it. It is surreal. I could have never imagined this in my life. So, for our team to see the preparation we put in and see something great come from it is unbelievable.”

Kentucky (2-1) was the first No. 1 team in the Associated Press poll to lose to a team that had 11 or fewer wins in the previous season since Stanford during the 2003-04 season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The Purple Aces were 25-point underdogs at Caesars Sportsbook, matching the third-largest betting upset in the past 15 seasons in a college basketball game involving two Division I teams. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI) had given Evansville a 4% chance to win.

“We had confidence before we even came in here,” Evansville senior K.J. Riley said. “Coach (McCarty) told us, ‘We could win; this is a winnable game.’ Then we believed it from the jump. We didn’t say, ‘Oh they have a lot of guys on the draft board.’ We had faith in ourselves, as a team, and the work we put in, and the preparation.” 

“If we would’ve somehow pulled it out, it would have been unfair, because they were the tougher team,” Calipari said. “They made shots, and that’s tough to do in this building. Give credit to Walter. He had his team better prepared than I had my team. They deserved to win.”