The Kentucky Wildcats hit the court for the first time this season against an opposing team, beating Georgetown College 92-69 in an exhibition game on Friday night in Rupp Arena.
The Wildcats got off to a sloppy start, making careless turnovers and starting the game just 4/11 from the field. In fact, the Tigers scored the half’s final six points and missed the front end of a one-and-one as UK was able to hold on to a 35-34 lead at halftime.
Kentucky finally began to pull away midway through the second half and led 65-52 on a Tre Mitchell stick back with 9:31 left in the game. Mitchell led Kentucky with a team-high 22 points, while Antonio Reeves finished with 18. Georgetown College was led in scoring by Cam Brooks-Harris with a game-high 21 points.
Adou Thiero stuffed the stat sheet with 10 points (4/5) shooting, five boards, four steals, and four assists.
Here are the four things you need to know as Kentucky closed out the Tigers on Friday night.
UK offense goes through Antonio Reeves
Make no mistake about it, Kentucky is at its best on the offense end when Antonio Reeves is firing on all cylinders.
As last year’s SEC Sixth Man of the Year and the MVP of this summer’s summer GLOBL Jam, the Illinois State transfer shot just under 50 percent from the field on Friday night (7/15) and provided stability with a team of freshman-heavy guards that were pressing early to make things happen. Reeves has to hit open shots from behind the three-point arc and can help the offense in transition by getting to the rim for easy baskets.
DJ Wagner and Rob Dillingham both caused havoc on the defensive end and showed toughness in knocking down shots and getting buckets in the lane. Dillingham finished 7/11 from the field with 16 points and five dimes, while Wagner was just 2/9 for four points with four boards, two steals, and one assist.
Don’t expect Edwards and Wagner to combine for 5/19 very often, and it’s good to see Kentucky was still able to have a high-scoring game despite arguably their two best players not doing much.
Rob Dillingham steal ➡️ Rob Dillingham layup. pic.twitter.com/a6cVln8VCd— Kentucky Men’s Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) October 27, 2023
Reed Sheppard provides a spark off the bench
Coach John Calipari sang the praises of Reed Sheppard earlier this week at UK media day and said every teammate should want the freshman guard on the floor with them because he has such a positive impact on the game.
That was certainly the case on Friday night as the former Kentucky Mr. Basketball entered the game at the 12:07 mark and nailed his first three-point attempt to give the Wildcats an 18-14 lead. He later drilled a pull-up jumper to push the lead to 24-18 and hit two free throws under the 4-minute mark to keep the offense on track. Sheppard also threw a nifty alley-oop pass to Justin Edwards just under the 5-minute mark to seal the deal.
Edwards finished the game with just nine points on 3/10 shooting but did grab eight boards.
“Small Ball” could be a rocky ride to start the season
Playing without its three 7-footers - Aaron Bradshaw (foot injury), Ugonna Onyenso (foot injury), and Zvonimir Ivišić (waiting on NCAA eligibility), the Wildcats are thin on the interior and will have to look to Adou Thiero, Tre Mitchell, and Jordan Burks to rebound and guard the post.
On Friday night, UK barely won the battle on the boards in the first half (22-20), and Georgetown College finished with more blocks (5-4) and points in the paint (22-18).
The good news is that the trio of Thiero, Mitchell, and Burks all have a knack for finding the ball, and Mitchell is a three-point threat, hitting from deep four times against the Tigers.
The Wildcats picked up the intensity on both ends in the second half and will need to get rebounding help from Justin Edwards and the guard position until the Kentucky bigs return to action.
Earlier in the week, UK athletics released the following statement on the eligibility of Ivišić:
“As a department, we want to clarify, Zvonimir Ivišić has been cleared to practice and play in all intrasquad games. That said, he can not compete against outside competition, including exhibition games, until he is approved by the NCAA. There was miscommunication in this regard and, as we always do, we plan to adhere to NCAA rules. Until he is fully cleared, Zvonimir will be withheld from games against outside competition.”
Here’s to hoping Kentucky’s sitting bigs return sooner rather than later.
The Georgetown Connection
Located just 12 miles from Rupp Arena, Georgetown College has a rich history of basketball success and has won two NAIA national titles under current head coach Chris Briggs, who was a student manager at Kentucky from 2001-04 and a graduate assistant from 2004-06 under Tubby Smith. Biggs, now in his 13th season, led the Tigers last year to a 30-6 record and an appearance in the NAIA Fab Four,
Notable Georgetown College alumni include WKYT sports anchor Dave “Buzz” Baker (1982) who is the long-time host of the UK Sports Network’s “Countdown to Tip-Off Show” on the school’s statewide radio network. Baker recently received the Distinguished Alumni Award as part of Georgetown College’s Homecoming Weekend.
The Wildcats close out the exhibition schedule on Thursday at home against Kentucky State University. The season opener kicks off on Monday, November 6th, against the New Mexico State Aggies at Rupp Arena.
What was your biggest takeaway tonight? Let us know in the comments section!