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Former teammates set aside brotherly bond in pursuit of win

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Michael Kidd Gilchrist will play against high school teammate Derrick Gordon of Western Kentucky on Thursday at the KFC Yum! Center. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Michael Kidd Gilchrist will play against high school teammate Derrick Gordon of Western Kentucky on Thursday at the KFC Yum! Center. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In an effort to bring you the most comprehensive coverage of the Kentucky basketball team's postseason run, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be teaming up throughout UK's journey in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. You can find stories on the team at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog.

LOUISVILLE -- Nobody likes to lose, but perhaps nobody hates losing as much as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It makes him sick to his stomach, his body shut down and his engine turn off.

"It sticks with me a lot," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I don't know how to explain that feeling."

He doesn't need to. His body language after Sunday's Southeastern Conference Tournament loss to Vanderbilt said it all. Kidd-Gilchrist, slumped at his locker, could barely get a word out to reporters. He was rocked at the core, unable to cope with a feeling he's rarely experienced through high school and now college.

"I'm still mad about it," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I don't know about everybody else, but I am."

Perhaps if there's one person that can understand how much Kidd-Gilchrist hates losing, it's his former high school teammate and current Western Kentucky Hilltopper Derrick Gordon. Gordon starred with Kidd-Gilchrist at St. Patrick's High School last year, zipping through the regular season and state tournament without a loss until the final game of the season.

Kidd-Gilchrist took the loss hard, but Gordon never got over it either. It may appear that nobody hates losing as much as Kentucky's freshman forward from Somerdale, N.J., but the two brothers, as they describe themselves, share a bond.

"We were both the same," Gordon said. "We don't like losing. That's why we only lost one game last year. It's tough."

Gordon has learned a thing or two about losing this year. Sticking to his early commitment to Western Kentucky, Gordon passed on offers from high-major schools despite a rising stock, and he joined the Hilltoppers for an up-and-down season unlike anything he could have ever predicted.

By midseason, the coach that recruited him was gone, and before the Sun Belt Tournament, his team was 11-18 and headed nowhere for the postseason. Somehow, with a "never quit" attitude, Western Kentucky turned its season around and won the league tournament.

Befitting of their year, the Hilltoppers came from 16 down Tuesday night in their first-round game, stunning Mississippi Valley State 59-58 with a game-closing 22-5 run. Gordon, the team's leading scorer and rebounder, finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds in the miracle in Dayton, Ohio.

"Our season hasn't been perfect," Gordon admitted. "I had down times where I felt like quitting but I couldn't do that, because if I would have (done) that we wouldn't be in this situation that I'm in and the leader that I am." 

Gordon's will and the Hilltoppers' resiliency have set the stage for Kentucky vs. Western, Commonwealth school vs. Commonwealth school, brother vs. brother.

Nearly a year since losing together in their state high school finale, the former St. Patrick's stars will go head to head in the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Neither freshman can wait.

"I was watching (his game) last night," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "It was a dream come true for both of us. He's like my brother. I really can't wait to play him tomorrow."

It's a dream both players used to talk about as teammates.

"We talked about this our junior year of high school," Gordon said. "We talked about playing in the regular season, but this is even better playing in the NCAA Tournament. Everybody's going to be watching. This is what I've been waiting for. This is what I wanted. I'm just ready to make it happen."

Kidd-Gilchrist and Gordon met playing AAU ball. Kidd-Gilchrist guesses they were around 8 years old. They hit it off immediately and meshed beautifully at St. Patrick's.

"We're junkyard warriors," Gordon said. "We love to rebound the ball and we really don't care who scores the ball at all as long as our team wins."

Gordon isn't at all surprised that Kidd-Gilchrist has been a Big Blue favorite, a media darling and one of the nation's most likeable players.

"He was like that in high school," Gordon said. "He's a great person to be around. Everybody loves him. When we were in the classroom senior year, UK fans were always hitting him up and things like that, saying he was going to be their favorite player. It wasn't unexpected. That's just the type of player he is."

The former teammates hadn't seen each other since they graduated, but they sought each other out Wednesday during their respective teams' downtime at the Yum! Center.

"I'm just really happy for the season he's been having," Gordon said. "Rumors are going around he'll be a top-10 lottery pick. It's crazy. I just played high school basketball with him and he's already getting that publicity."

But at the end of the day, as Gordon said, one of them has to walk away from Thursday's game as a winner and the other one has to go home. When the ball goes up at 6:50 p.m., both agree that's where the friendship temporarily ends.

"I'm trying to win a national championship too, so yeah, it's war," Kidd-Gilchrist said.

While Kidd-Gilchrist is a forward and Gordon is a guard, both have thought about guarding each other. Gordon, a scrappy, smaller version of Kidd-Gilchrist, leads Western in rebounding, so it wouldn't be a total surprise to see the matchup, at least temporarily.

Anthony Davis said Kidd-Gilchrist already asked John Calipari to guard him, and Marquis Teague said Coach Cal told Kidd-Gilchrist he could have the honors.

"I'm going to let him get off a shot or two," Kidd-Gilchrist said, mischievously smiling.

Gordon understands the Cats are confident, but he believes Western Kentucky can use that to its advantage. A 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed.

"A lot of people saying it's going to be a blowout but that's not going to happen," Gordon said. "We're expecting to throw the first punch out there and do something tomorrow that a lot of people haven't seen before."

Said Kidd-Gilchrist, once again smiling: "I wish him the best in this game."

But someone's got to lose, and Kidd-Gilchrist isn't wishing that upon himself.

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