If you looked at the score early in the first half, it definitely would not have looked as you thought. The Lions got out to a fast start, but luckily, that didn't last, as the Cats took over rather quickly. Led by Antonio Reeves, the Cats finished the first half on a 30-9 run and went to the locker room up 38-30.
Kentucky had a firm grasp on the second half. With some more solid defense, as well as the consistent play in the backcourt, the Cats were able to blow this one open.
With a shortened rotation tonight due to the absence of Adou Thiero, a blowout win is just the icing on the cake.
Up next is a date with the No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks at the United Center in Chicago on Tuesday.
Now, let’s take a quick look at four takeaways from tonight's win.
Lions start out hot
In what was likely a shocking early score for everyone watching, Texas A&M Commerce jumped out to an early 10-point lead on the Cats. A team that came into Rupp Arena only making nine threes all season came out and made five in the first half.
The ‘random guy shoots lights out in Rupp’ storyline was very much in play, as the Lions came into the night 9/53 from deep but hit 10 of their first 25 attempts from three in this one.
For a young team, a test like this is a good one, however, and this team showed the fight and will to get back in front quickly. No one is going to excuse it happening, but seeing the fight is a good sign, with a big date against Kansas coming on Tuesday night.
Reed Sheppard Continues to Impress
When the comeback started in the first half, it started when Sheppard took the floor. Good luck ever finding a player on the court who goes harder than him on both ends.
He might not put up a lot of numbers in one statistic, but it is the numbers he puts up across the board that are going to continue him playing a big role on this squad. And his length is helping Kentucky not get blitzed in the paint.
Don’t be shocked if he is in the fight for game MVP after every matchup with the way he has performed to this point.
John Calipari on Reed Sheppard:— Tristan Pharis (@TristanUda) November 11, 2023
"Couldn't make a basket but plus 23. When he's in the game you play better. That's why he's gotta be on the floor."
Backcourt Goes Off
Even when all of the seven-footers are healthy and good to go, it is the backcourt that is going to take this team places this season. Tonight, we saw just that.
With Antonio Reeves, DJ Wagner, and Rob Dillingham all scoring in double figures, it is going to be hard to stop this team when they are all playing this well offensively. Add in the other stats and the play of Justin Edwards, and they will be close to unstoppable.
Reeves led the way with 21 on 8/14 shooting (5/8 from deep) and was really good in the first half when Kentucky got down big early.
John Calipari finally has his guys to run his system. It’s going to be a fun season once again.
Frontcourt depth will be welcomed
Yes, the backcourt is impressive, and Tre Mitchell is battling down low, but the return of Aaron Bradshaw, Zvonimir Ivisic, and Ugonna Onyenso is going to be greatly welcomed.
Why so? Mostly for rebounding purposes.
The Cats barely out-rebounded the Lions this evening, and with Kansas on deck, that could be a deciding factor on Tuesday night. It certainly didn't help that Thiero missed this game with a concussion, as this frontcourt can’t afford any more losses if it hopes to hang with Kansas.
It is nothing to fret over yet, but their height is greatly missed in these early games.
And we have to shout out Tre Mitchell for bouncing back from a so-so offensive game in the opener, as he racked up 18 points on 8/11 shooting (1/2 from deep) with eight boards, one assist, and one block.
Now, let’s discuss the win!