The Kentucky Wildcats headed down I-64 West for a matchup with the Louisville Cardinals in the annual Battle of the Bluegrass. A game that has been kind to UK during the John Calipari era continued that trend tonight as the Cats rolled over UofL, 95-76.
To start off the game, it was all you could have asked for if you were a Louisville fan. They consistently got to their spots and played some inspired defense.
That all ended about 10 minutes into the first half.
After another sluggish start, Kentucky took off, which was fueled by the elite offensive half from Antonio Reeves. In the first 20 minutes of game time, the super senior put up 22 points on 9/10 shooting and was 4/4 from deep.
With some added fuel from Tre Mitchell, Adou Thiero, and Reed Sheppard, the Cats raced past the Cards to take a 53-33 lead into the locker room.
The second half was all Kentucky. With several guys stepping up, it seemed as though Justin Edwards might finally be breaking out of his slump to start this season with 13 points on 6/10 shooting and seven boards.
Add in some solid experience minutes for guys like Ugonna Onyenso, and the second half was a win-win for the Cats.
For Louisville, there is no question about it. Something has to change, as evidenced by Kentucky fans absolutely taking over the arena.
Now, the Cats will turn their attention to a matchup with Illinois State next Friday night as they finally return home to Rupp Arena to finish out 2023.
If you missed the game here are a few things to know about tonight's win against the Cards.
Sheppard and Dillingham provide the spark
If there is one complaint for this Kentucky team to this point in the season, it comes from the slow starts that they have each and every game. Well, that consistently changes when Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham check into the game.
That remained true tonight, as the freshman duo checked in quickly after around two-and-a-half minutes with the starting five on the floor. After starting 0/5 from the field, Sheppard and Dillingham helped get the offense going for the Cats to give the BBN a sigh of relief after the poor start.
Sheppard ended up having a career night with 11 points (3/6 shooting) and a career-high 11 assists, while Dilly finished with 12 points (5/9 shooting).
ROB DILLINGHAM SHOWTIME pic.twitter.com/cMg9G5Apnw— Kentucky Men’s Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) December 22, 2023
Now, their defense still needs work, but they provide such a spark on offense it is worth the trade-off.
Antonio Reeves goes off
This game started off rather slowly. Then Antonio Reeves decided to fill up the scoreboard.
He finished with 30 points on 10/16 shooting and 4/5 from three. He also added two assists and a rebound.
Kentucky faced off against a poor defensive Cardinals team, and the Cats' leading scorer took over early and often en route to just his second 30+ point game as a Wildcat.
The story of the freshman recruiting Reeves back via group chat will never get old because of nights like this. They all told Reeves that he was the missing piece of this team being special.
We saw that tonight as Reeves took over, and this UK squad never looked back.
Defense struggles early, eventually locks in
This Louisville team is not good offensively, especially getting drawn-up shots. That wasn't the case early against Kentucky, especially in the post. It has been no secret that this team is not the elite defensive team that we are used to seeing under John Calipari, but it did improve over the course of the game.
That is the key for this Kentucky team. They don't have to be the best defensive team, but they need to be a top-25 unit if they hope to cut down the nets in March. They came into the game at No. 46 in the country according to KenPom in defensive efficiency, it will likely stay around that number after this game, but definitely isn't as bad as everyone thinks.
When you have a team that scores 100+ points on any given night. You can live with some poor defense.
This team has the tools
Despite the defensive inefficiencies, one thing is true of this team: they have the tools.
Over the last few seasons, we have seen Kentucky have some really good players, but outside of Oscar, few have been elite. That just isn't true this season.
The best teams we have seen under Calipari are built very similarly to this roster. Will they reach their full potential? There is still a long way to go to figure that out, but if these first 11 games have taught you anything, it is this squad that is going to make some noise.
Now, let’s celebrate the blowout win over the Cards!