Remember when the Kentucky Wildcats were 10-6 and coming off what looked like the final dagger in that home loss to South Carolina?
Boy, how things have changed since then, as Kentucky has won eight of 11 games to get back on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, thanks largely to a season sweep of the No. 10 Tennessee Volunteers.
A big part of that has been the ascension of Chris Livingston, a former five-star recruit who was struggling to establish his role within a Kentucky team that, at the time, wasn’t doing much of anything right.
Thankfully, Livingston has slowly been getting more accustomed to the college game and is now showing why he was, at one point in his recruitment, a top-five prospect.
In Kentucky’s win in Knoxville, the freshman forward finished with a modest six points on 2/5 shooting, four rebounds and one steal in 18 minutes.
This time, Livingston had an expanded role, partly due to CJ Fredrick being out, and was easily one of the best players on the floor today for either side. The Ohio native finished with 12 points on 4/5 shooting with 10 rebounds for the first double-double of his college career to help Kentucky pull off the 66-54 victory.
It would have been even better if not for an uncharacteristic game from the free-throw line, where Livingston hit just 3/7 attempts. It came three days after he went 6/6 from the charity stripe in Wednesday’s huge win at Mississippi State, including four clutch makes in the closing minutes.
After today’s game, Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes took a playful jab at his good friend, John Calipari, about not utilizing Livingston better earlier this season.
Tennessee HC Rick Barnes was asked about how Chris Livingston’s emergence has changed Kentucky. Says he made some good plays, UK using him in some different ways. Jokes “I’m not sure what Cal was thinking earlier in the year.” (Laughs)— Jeff Drummond (@JDrumUK) February 18, 2023
This may come off as trash talk to some, but trust me when I say these two are great friends, and this was Barnes simply ribbing his friend more than anything.
Saying this, it’s clear now that Livingston’s role must remain significant for Kentucky to keep winning. His rise has played a major role in the Wildcats finding new life after all hope had seemed lost.
Rare feat: Chris Livingston outrebounded Oscar today.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_ATH) February 18, 2023
Asked Oscar how he'd feel about averaging five rebounds the rest of the way but making the Final Four.
"I would take that, absolutely. Absolutely. It's not about me. I came back to school to try to win a championship."
Over the last four games, Livingston is averaging 11.8 points (16/29 shooting for 55.2% from the field and 5/10 from deep for 50%) to go with 5.8 rebounds while logging 30+ minutes in each contest. In the previous 23 games, he logged at least 30 minutes just once and none over his first 21 games.
If the Wildcats can get that kind of Livingston consistently, they should be able to lock up an NCAA Tournament berth in the coming weeks.
And if he keeps ascending, perhaps these Wildcats are capable of a deep run in March after all.
No one pay attention to the fact that the focus is on my hand, listen to Chris Livingston talk about ripping a rebound from Oscar. #BBN pic.twitter.com/Mu0sJBmkZy— Sierra Newton (@SoFlossieWrites) February 18, 2023
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