The final chapter of the 2022-23 basketball season came to a close on Sunday afternoon, as the Kentucky Wildcats made another early exit from the NCAA Tournament after losing 75-69 to Kansas State at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Kansas State, 25-9, will now advance to the Sweet 16 to play the Maquette/Michigan State winner at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Kentucky finishes the year 22-12.
Kentucky jumped out early and led 15-7 on a Cason Wallace steal that resulted in a layup and free throw to finish the traditional three-point play. A CJ Fredrick three would put UK up 20-15 with 6:27 remaining in the first half.
Despite going 0-for-12 from three-point range, Kansas State took advantage of 11 Kentucky turnovers in the opening half to tie the game at 22-all on a free throw before point guard Markquis Nowell took over in the open court as easy transition buckets gave Kansas State a 29-26 lead at halftime.
Kentucky would come out swinging to start the second half, going on a 9-0 run to take a 35-31 lead before Kansas State was forced to call timeout at the 17:27 mark. A Wallace bucket would extend the lead to 37-31 and a Tshiebwe basket pushed the advantage to 39-31 before Kansas State scored to stop a 13-0 run.
Kansas State would recapture the lead with 10:15 remaining on a Nowell basket to take a 47-43 with 10:15 remaining. A Livingston three would cut the lead to 47-46 before Nowell again got to the basket to put K-State back up by three.
With the game tied 56-all, a Wallace layup and a Ware dunk gave Kentucky a 60-56 lead with 3:54 remaining. However, Nowell responded with a quick three to cut the lead to 60-59 at the final TV timeout. Kansas State would then hit back-to-back three to pull ahead 67-62 with less than a minute remaining, and that was all she wrote.
Oscar Tshiebwe finished with 25 points and 18 rebounds in what is projected to be his final game as a Wildcat.
Turnovers and transition defense creates issues for Kentucky
Kentucky simply made too many turnovers and never could get enough pressure on Kansas State point guard Markquis Nowell to find any separation. Nowell was simply sensational in the open court, finding teammates on behind-the-back passes in transition and throwing no-look lobs for easy baskets as the 5-foot-8 floor general was just too good. He also was disruptive on the defensive end and easily got to the basket to beat the Wildcats.
Oscar Tshiebwe is sensational on the big stage
Tshiebwe had 11 points and 11 rebounds over the first twenty minutes to mark the eighth time this season that he’s had a double-double in the first half. As usual, the 6-foot-9 post player was active on the boards on both ends on the heels of a record performance in the first-round win over Providence after setting a UK single-game NCAA Tournament record with 25 rebounds. Tshiebwe recently became the first UK player to be tabbed an All-American in back-to-back years since Tayshaun Prince in 2001 and 2002. He is one of just nine UK players ever to be a consensus All-American at least twice.
Wallace comes up huge for a struggling offense
As Antonio Reeves and Jacob Toppin struggled on the offensive end, freshman guard Cason Wallace stepped up to lead the offense. The Texas native knocked down numerous big shots and got Tshiebwe enough touches in the paint to keep points on the board. Reeves and Toppin were 2-for-22 from the field with just seven points between them. Thankfully, Wallace, Tshiebwe, and the inspired play of Chris Livingston in the second half kept Kentucky in the game.
With Kentucky bowing out of the tournament, all eyes will look toward next season and a No. 1 recruiting class that will wear the blue and white. The transfer portal will also be an interesting conversation as John Calipari will try to build a new roster for next season.
Who will return from this roster? It’s a safe bet that Oscar Tshiebwe, Cason Wallace, Jacob Toppin, and Sahvir Wheeler won’t be. What about Chris Livingston, Antonio Reeves, CJ Fredrick, and others?
For now, it’s time to decompress. Thank you for following us here at A Sea Of Blue all season long! Here’s to hope for betters days next season.