The Kentucky Wildcats beat the Providence Friars on Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by a score of 61-53.
The Cats started off a bit slow, but they were clearly prepared to start this one. Jacob Toppin asserted himself early offensively as Oscar Tshiebwe dominated the boards and Antonio Reeves exploded late on the way to a 38-32 halftime lead.
After the break, this game slowed down. Over halfway through the second half, the teams combined for 15 points.
However, the Cats were able to put this one away behind dominant performances from Oscar Tshiebwe and Antonio Reeves.
The monkey is off their back, as the Cats secured their first NCAA Tournament win since 2019. They will play again on Sunday against the winner of Kansas State and Montana State.
Kentucky was unable to warm up due to a rim malfunction that also plagued the Iowa State Cyclones in the game preceding.
Meanwhile, the Friars had no issues getting shots up.
Respectfully, this is garbage. NCAA Tournament game. pic.twitter.com/vLvuAL4XqS— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) March 17, 2023
This is an unbelievable problem that arose on college basketball’s biggest stage. Iowa State had to request a stoppage due to the rim issues on their way to shooting 23.3% from the field.
These were the rims Kentucky shot on in the first half, and they ended up having a brutal 1/8 shooting start.
Thankfully, the Cats got hot and scored 38 points on 46% shooting from the field and 40% from deep.
Wheeler continues to sit out
Sahvir Wheeler was expected to play in this one after practicing all week, but he did not take the floor in this one.
John Calipari announced before the game that Wheeler was only 70-75% and would not play. There has been speculation for several weeks that Wheeler has played his last game in a Kentucky uniform, and it feels more likely by the day.
Wheeler has not played since February 4th. He suspiciously missed Senior Day due to tailbone surgery after being out due to an ankle injury. Big Blue Nation wondered why the surgery had to happen that morning, but Calipari insisted he’d play again this season.
After supposedly practicing in full all week and still not playing, it’s looking like the conspiracy theorists may have been right and Wheeler has played his last game for the Cats.
Oscar Tshiebwe Makes History
What else can you say? Oscar. Tshiebwe. Sure, we’ve all had our issues with Tshiebwe this year. His defense was bad and the surgery clearly affected his athleticism, at least early on.
However, the reigning National Player of the Year looked like his vintage self on the glass. With a Kentucky NCAA Tournament-record 25 rebounds, Big O also became the first player in Kentucky basketball history with multiple 15+ rebound games in the tournament. The man refused to lose again in the first round after last year’s debacle.
Tshiebwe seemingly grabbed every rebound in the first half in an absolutely insane performance. He didn’t do much on the offensive end, but he didn’t need to.
Oscar Tshiebwe has now tasted NCAA Tournament success!
Reeves Carries Offense
Antonio Reeves is the straw that stirs this Big Blue drink. The Cats go as Reeves goes, and he went a long way in this one, scoring a game-high 22 points to go with three boards. He also hit a massive two-pointer in the closing minutes to ensure Kentucky stayed ahead for good.
Reeves has been the staple of Kentucky’s offense all season long, and once again he proved that Kentucky’s success is dependent on his scoring.
The offense wasn’t pretty, but Reeves was the bright spot once again in a massive performance.
Bonus: The East Region is wide open.
Because top-seeded Purdue just lost to 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson.
(16) FDU UPSETS (1) PURDUE— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 18, 2023
MARCH. KEEPS. ON. GIVING. #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/4T0K3n13Er
Just keep winning! Go Cats!