LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Kentucky's inconsistent play this year has left the Wildcats without a chance to defend their national championship.
There was no at-large NCAA tournament bid for the young Kentucky squad that could not overcome injuries, sporadic guard play and a lack of leadership.
A 16-point loss in Friday's must-win game in the Southeastern Conference tournament against Vanderbilt a few miles from the Commodores' Nashville campus sealed the fate of the Wildcats, who were left out of the 68-team field.
Kentucky did get a No. 1 seed in the National Invitation Tournament.
The Wildcats will open on the road at Robert Morris on Tuesday in the 32-team NIT field. Kentucky athletic department spokesman DeWayne Peevy said the school is not hosting a first-round game because it did not bid on one because of conflicts at Rupp Arena.
"We did not place a bid to host the first round of the NIT due to limited staff availability to properly host a game at Memorial Coliseum," Peevy said in a statement. "Because the University of Kentucky is hosting the NCAA second- and third-round games at Rupp Arena on March 21 and 23, the facility was not available for a first-round NIT game. We placed a bid to host both the second round and quarterfinal games at Rupp Arena if we advance."
The Wildcats also did not have any media availability on Sunday, perhaps sensing they would not get an NCAA tournament bid.
While the NIT tournament gives Kentucky a chance to extend its season, it's a small consolation for a program that began the season No. 3 and with Final Four aspirations. The Wildcats, the No. 2 seed in the SEC tournament, also have to be feeling the sting of letting an NCAA berth slip away with a 64-48 lost to 10th-seeded Vanderbilt in Nashville.
Kentucky (21-11) becomes the 20th national champion to miss the tournament the following season, according to Stats LLC.
Despite their belief that they can beat anybody when playing as a team, Kentucky players are left pondering a slew of what-ifs created by their failure to execute consistently.
The SEC quarterfinal loss to Vanderbilt symbolized Kentucky's deficiencies. In a game John Calipari said was a must-win needed to solidify an at-large bid, the coach watched his Wildcats "lay an egg."
Kentucky managed just 48 points against the Commodores, a squad it swept during the regular season and had scored 74 against just a few weeks ago.
Gone was the momentum from the Wildcats' signature win over Florida on March 9, as well as their case for returning to the tournament they dominated a year ago. Then again, inconsistency has been a common theme for a young team.