The Cats got off to a slow start, again, as they went down 13-5 early, and there were five minutes of game time with no points. The defense continued to struggle, and it didn't help that the Bulldogs made some wild shots at the rim. Unfortunately, the offense wasn't any better as they went into the half down 42-32.
After the break, Kentucky came out with a lot more energy on both ends. They looked like a completely different team as they quickly cut the lead, tied the game, then took over. The offense was solid, if unspectacular, but the defense was much, much better. A simple difference in energy on that end, like Jacob Toppin jumping to contest a three-pointer rather than just putting a hand up, clearly changed the game.
However, it just wasn't enough. Kentucky takes another horrible loss, and it’s probably safe to say the season is cooked at this point.
Next up, the Cats will travel to Starkville on Wednesday night to take on the Mississippi Bulldogs. The outlook certainly looks bleak.
What feels like it’s become the norm over the last half-decade, Kentucky continues to struggle with injuries. Sahvir Wheeler missed his second straight contest with an ankle injury.
After a big game against the Florida Gators, CJ Fredrick took a late fall into the cameraman. He was clearly in pain but played against the Arkansas Razorbacks on Tuesday night. He obviously wasn't himself as he gave Kentucky next to nothing, and it turned out he has a cracked rib from that fall last weekend.
Wheeler and Fredrick just can’t seem to stay healthy. To make matters worse, Cason Wallace got in early foul trouble as he picked up two fouls just three and a half minutes into the game. That forced Adou Thiero into point guard duty—his primary position coming into college but one he hasn't played much thus far. Wallace just didn't show up. He didn't score a basket until less than a minute remaining in the game. It simply exacerbated the injury situation.
Antonio ThReeves returns
There are two versions of the Illinois State transfer: Antonio Reeves and Antonio ThReeves. Antonio ThReeves was front and center pouring in 27 points in Oxford against the Ole Miss Rebels a couple of weeks ago, but Antonio Reeves played poorly in the last two games.
Antonio ThReeves returned as UK’s X-factor in this one, and it was badly needed. Kentucky’s offense just hits on a different level when Reeves is firing on all cylinders. He just scores at all three levels. He has a beautiful midrange/floater game. He attacks the basket when he needs to. And he's Kentucky’s best three-point shooter.
What's funny is he’s been coming off the bench basically all season. A lot of people assumed he may just be better as a microwave scorer off the bench and John Calipari didn't seem to think it mattered whether he started or not as long he’s playing the majority of the minutes. But he played pretty well today in the starting five and his scoring ability is crucial for this team.
Reeves is probably the only player on this team that you assume the ball is going in the basket every time he releases it. Kentucky needs this Antonio ThReeves every time out to make any noise in March.
Ball screen defense was much better
Everyone knows Georgia isn't very good, but teams have been picking on Kentucky’s defense, especially Oscar Tshiebwe, with ball screens all season long.
Kentucky finally looked like they made some adjustments. While the defense as a whole wasn't great and teams are still amazingly getting so many open shots and drives to the rim, the ball screen defense wasn't the issue in this one.
Tshiebwe started blitzing the pick-and-roll rather than hedging or sitting in no man’s land. While that strategy can lead to more open three-point attempts for opposing teams, it clearly worked in this one against a team that struggles from deep.
NCAA Tournament hopes are just about done for
Kentucky falls out of the projected NCAA Tournament bracket with another horrific loss.
The Cats are poised to miss their third NCAA Tournament in the Calipari era and the second in the last three years. They haven't won an NCAA Tournament game since 2019. This is simply unacceptable. This is not Kentucky basketball. The program is hanging on by a thread at this point.
I have no words.