The No. 14 Kentucky Wildcats returned to action this evening as they traveled to Atlanta to take on the No. 9 North Carolina Tar Heels. The CBS Sports Classic has been kind to the Cats over the last several seasons, and that continued this evening as they left State Farm Arena with the win, 87-83.
For a game of this magnitude, the first half was just about all you could have hoped for as a college basketball fan. Two blue-bloods going toe-to-toe in an up-tempo game. Luckily for the BBN, the Cats controlled the majority of the half.
Led by the group of talented freshmen, the Cats led by 5-10 points for the majority of the first 20 minutes until a late surge by the Tar Heels to round out the half. UK was able to weather the storm, though, to take the lead into the half, 40-38.
The second half was much of the same. The Cats and Heels were trading punches all the way to the end, but Kentucky made just enough plays to pull off the four-point win in a game that came right down to the final seconds.
Thankfully, Aaron Bradshaw hit 3/4 free throws down the stretch to help the Cats come away victorious.
After going 1/7 in the first half, Rob Dillingham caught fire after halftime, hitting five of his next nine shots and scored a team-high 17 points.
DJ Wagner stuffed the stat sheet with 14 points, six boards, five assists, and a steal.
Bradshaw finished with 12 points, three boards, and two steals.
Reed Sheppard had 11 points with six rebounds, two steals, two assists, and a block.
What a win.
Kentucky will now return to action on Thursday evening for a matchup with the Louisville Cardinals at the KFC Yum! Center at 6 pm ET.
But first, let's take a look at a few things to know from today's game.
Ugonna Onyenso Returns
After a five-month absence, Ugonna Onyenso has finally made his season debut. Onyenso suffered a foot injury during the team’s GLOBAL JAM Tour tuneup game this past summer that led to foot surgery several weeks after.
In very short minutes, Onyenso didn't make a huge impact on either end of the floor but flashed on the defensive end of the floor especially.
On the plus side, however, with Aaron Bradshaw making his debut these last few games, John Calipari and his staff now have multiple big men to rotate in and out as SEC play approaches. With some of the talented frontcourts in the league, the return of Onyenso is welcomed greatly.
Aaron Bradshaw Continues to Shine
It might only be his third game in a Kentucky uniform, but Aaron Bradshaw is making a difference for this team. With a tough matchup against UNC All-American Armando Bacot, Bradshaw left it all out on the court on both ends.
He started out his scoring with a deep 3, and continued to shine with several different rim runs that ended in dunks for the talented center. Bradshaw also made a huge impact on the defensive end of the floor as he utilized his length to help block and alter shots inside the paint.
For this Kentucky team to really reach their potential, they needed Bradshaw to have the type of impact he has had so far this season. Let’s hope it continues to trend in this same direction.
Sheppard shows up once again
This statement has become the norm for Kentucky basketball this season. Reed Sheppard is legit, folks.
Coming into the season, we all expected him to play a role on this team, but through the first ten games of the season, he is hands down the best player on this squad.
Whether it be by impacting the game with his hands on defense to create steals or his shooting touch from all three levels on the offensive end, Sheppard has been special to this point in the year. That continued once again tonight.
Enjoy him while you can, BBN. This is shaping up to be a one-year thing.
DJ Wagner heats up
For the majority of the season, DJ Wagner has been trying to find himself as he transitioned to college basketball. It feels like he has finally broken through.
After impressing against Penn in a high-stakes game, he started to turn into a go-to scorer tonight when the Cats needed a bucket.
This Kentucky team needs Wagner to continue to trend upward for them to reach their potential. I like how this is going currently.
Pace Picks back up.... but too fast?
With two bigs now consistently in the lineup, many across the BBN were questioning what kind of pace this Kentucky team would play with the remainder of the season. Well, we got that answer today, as the Cats ran up and down the floor consistently.
There was only one problem... could it have been too fast?
With such a young team, in a big environment that this game presented, it was obvious most of the guys were playing sped up and out of control at times. Is that a bad thing? No, not at all. But there has to be some thought to helping these guys slow it down and process, while also utilizing their strengths in transition.
It’s still early in the season, but I trust Cal to help these guys see the strengths in both styles.