The temperature just never felt right on Wednesday night at Rupp Arena as the hot-shooting Vanderbilt Commodores faced a Kentucky team that was cold as ice to close out the home schedule on Senior Night.
The result was a back-and-forth game in which Kentucky trailed most of the second half and finally came up short, losing a 68-66 thriller to fall to 20-10 on the season.
No. 23 Kentucky struggled early on the offensive end, going 6-for-20 and missing its first seven three-point attempts as the game was tied at 15-all with 10:30 left in the half. The Wildcats finally built some momentum on an Adou Thiero jumper and jumped out to a 21-17 lead as CJ Fredrick finally nailed a much-needed three for the Wildcats.
Daimion Collins got an easy dunk to extend the lead to 28-23 before Vandy closed with a pair of free throws and a trio of three-pointers to complete an 11-4 run that resulted in a 34-30 halftime lead.
Vandy opened the second half strong, hitting a three-pointer and getting a conventional three-point play to extend the lead to 44-35 with 16:27 remaining. Another Commodores basket made it an 11-point lead at 46-35.
Kentucky fought back and went on a 9-0 run and ultimately cut the lead to 49-47 on a Chris Livingston three-pointer. Jacob Toppin cut the lead to 64-61 with two free throws and a Tshiebwe dunk and an Antonio Reeves free throw tied the game at 64-all. The two teams traded baskets before Jordan Wright hit a jumper at the foul line for the game-winner with 2.7 seconds remaining.
On Kentucky’s final play, Reeve’s three-point attempt came up short to give the Wildcats its fourth home loss of the season.
Here are the four things you need to know about Kentucky’s final home game of the season.
Cason Wallace exits the game with an injury
Early in the second half, Cason Wallace went down with an ankle injury and never returned. The freshman guard has been sensational running the point this season, and the team is already without Sahvir Wheeler with an injury. Entering the game, Wallace ranked 10th (121) in assists and fifth (56) in steals in single-season program history for a freshman.
Making matters worse is Wheeler just had a procedure that could sideline him for the rest of Kentucky’s season.
John Calipari says on the pregame show that the doctors are telling him Sahvir Wheeler could miss 2-3 weeks.— TheCatsPause247 (@TheCatsPause247) March 1, 2023
One final double-double for Oscar Tshiebwe
Tshiebwe provided one final gift for the home fans, earning his 45th double-double with 21 points and 20 rebounds. Last week, he was recognized as the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week and came into the home finale ranked eighth all-time in program history with 861 total rebounds. He also scored more than 1,000 points in a Kentucky uniform. The West Virginia transfer was the consensus National Player of the Year in 2022.
Seniors exit (but will anyone return?)
A total of six seniors were honored during pre-game ceremonies as Oscar Tshiebwe, Jacob Toppin, CJ Fredrick, Antonio Reeves, Brennan Canada, and Sahvir Wheeler were all recognized as the home crowd sang My Old Kentucky Home while UK John Calipari shared hugs and high-fives with family members.
Unfortunately, Wheeler was not in attendance after going through a minor procedure this week that is unrelated to his current ankle injury. He was represented by Mrs. Ellen Calipari. who wore a No. 2 jersey to honor the second-year point guard who has battled injuries this season.
All of the seniors will have an opportunity to return for one final season due to the NCAA’s Covid-19 eligibility rule, and only time will tell who might be back next season. Tshiebwe and Toppin are most likely headed to the NBA Draft.
Wildcats likely to fall out of Top 25, again
Kentucky began the week by cracking the AP Top 25 for the first time since December 26th, when they were ranked No. 19 before losing to Missouri. With the loss, the “Cats will now have to regroup when they travel to Arkansas this weekend for the season finale before prepping for the SEC Tournament that will be played Mach 8-12 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.