OMAHA, Neb. | This, undoubtedly, won't go down as one of Kentucky's vintage basketball seasons. Still, Jodie Meeks and his teammates aren't ready for it to end.
Meeks converted a three-point play with 10.6 seconds left to give the Wildcats a 65-63 victory over Creighton in the second round of the NIT on Monday night.
Next stop is Notre Dame, where Kentucky (22-13) will play in the quarterfinals Wednesday.
"Any time you get a chance to put a Kentucky jersey on, you know we're going to play with pride," Meeks said. "We've got a chance to win this tournament. We're playing to win. No matter what the fans say, we're ready to keep playing and keep moving on."
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The Wildcats, in the NIT after 17 straight years in the NCAA tournament, played from behind most of the night. But they found themselves in position to win after Creighton missed 5 of 7 free throws in the last 3½ minutes. Kentucky trailed 63-62 after Creighton's Justin Carter missed two from the line with 36.4 seconds left.
Meeks, held in check by P'Allen Stinnett and Antoine Young for long stretches, blew past Stinnett on his way to the go-ahead layup and got fouled by Carter. After he made the free throw for a two-point lead, Booker Woodfox missed what would have been the winning 3-pointer just before the buzzer.
Meeks said he had to adjust his body to avoid getting called for charging.
"I tried to avoid it any way possible," he said. "I went sideways and kind of threw it up. It was a funny-looking shot, but it went in."
The basket ruined a party atmosphere at the Qwest Center.
Kentucky, college basketball's all-time winningest program, was the biggest-name opponent to play on Creighton's floor since Ray Meyer's great DePaul teams of the early 1980s.
The Bluejays (27-8) fed off the amped crowd of 16,984 that showed up despite a tornado warning at tipoff. Creighton never led by more than five points and Kentucky never by more than two. There were 13 lead changes.
"We just didn't finish it," Creighton coach Dana Altman said. "I thought our guys played hard. I thought it was a hard-fought game. We missed some opportunities. We gave up a couple easy ones down the stretch. The free throws we missed when we had an opportunity to extend our lead, that was the difference in the game."
Meeks led the Wildcats with 16 points, with 11 coming in the last 9:30. Before that, Creighton had effectively denied him the ball.
"The first half we were really successful against him," Altman said. "The second half, he caught it too many times. You have to keep him from catching it. He's really capable. He scores in so many ways."
Meeks, the Southeastern Conference's leading scorer at 24 points a game, got off just one shot the first nine minutes. He then missed a fastbreak dunk and an alley-oop before hitting a 3-pointer.
Creighton led 33-31 at half after holding Kentucky's stars, Meeks and Patrick Patterson, to a combined seven points.
Patterson, who entered the game off four straight double-doubles, was on the bench until the start of the second half after committing his second foul less than five minutes into the game. He finished with 12 points.
Perry Stevenson picked up some of the slack with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Woodfox, the Missouri Valley Conference player of the year, had 18 points. Stinnett added 15 and Kenny Lawson 12. Carter had eight points and a career-high 14 rebounds.
"It was a real good win for us against a real good team on their home court," Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie said. "It was just fun for us. We had a great time. It was a hotly contested game. Both teams played extremely hard, competed extremely hard for every ball. Sometimes the ball went in, sometimes it didn't. But I was very happy with the way our guys competed and made a lot of big plays down the stretch."