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Kentucky Struggles Offensively, Fall to Michigan State 86-77 at the Champions Classic

Graham Shepherd 11-15-22

The Champions Classic saw Kentucky and Michigan State tip off in the first game Tuesday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. This year was the 12th season of the Champions classic, and the fourth time the event has been held in Indianapolis. The Wildcats came into the game ranked No. 4 in the nation, while the Spartans entered the contest ranked just outside the AP top 25 poll, at No. 26 nationally. For the ‘Cats, reigning National Player of the Year, Oscar Tshiebwe made his return to the rotation, coming off the bench. Sophomore Daimion Collins also returned to the Kentucky lineup in the game for the first time this season. Calipari and the ‘Cats entered the contest 2-1 in Champions Classic matchups against Izzo’s Spartans, and 5-6 all-time in the event (lost 4 of their last 5 entering Tuesday nights game). Keys to the game included the ability of Reeves and Frederick to continue to stay hot from beyond the arc, team rebounding with Tshiebwe returning, and the Freshman’s ability to make an impact in a huge primetime matchup on the national stage.

The starting lineup for Kentucky featured Wallace, Frederick, Livingston, Toppin, and Ware

The starting lineup for Michigan State included Walker, Hoggard, Hauser, Hall, and Sissoko.

Game Recap:

The first score of the Champions Classic saw Michigan State’s Sissoko connect with a layup. After a quick missed shot, Wallace steals a pass and throws it down for a slam in transition to even the score to open the game. After those quick scores to open the game, the offenses for both teams went on short scoring droughts, bringing the score at the first media timeout to 6-4 ‘Cats, with Toppin scoring 4 early points. Tshiebwe and Collins made their return to the court for both of their first appearances of the 2022-23 season as play resumed after the timeout. Tshiebwe picked up where he left off last season, collecting 4 rebounds in his first 4 minutes of action that created multiple extra offensive opportunities that the ‘Cats failed to convert. With shots struggling to go down for both teams, the score was 9-6 Kentucky at the under 12-minute media timeout. The ‘Cats picked up 6 early fouls in the first 10 minutes of the half. After a signature driving angled layup by Wheeler, the Spartans responded with an and-one opportunity. Toppin picked up his second foul of the half with 8 minutes left to go in the half on a questionable push-off call on a rebound attempt under the basket. The first three-point field goal of the game for either team came with 7:45 left in the half with a make by the Spartan’s Walker. Another three-pointer by Hauser of the Spartans gave Michigan State a 21-20 lead heading into the under 8-minute timeout. After a Tshiebwe layup and a couple missed shots by Michigan State, Wallace nails Kentucky’s first three-pointer with 5 minutes to play in the half to give the ‘Cats a 25-21 lead. After the Spartans responded with a three-point make of their own, Kentucky regains momentum with a Reeves off-balance trey, followed by a Tshiebwe dunk off a nifty pass by Wallace to bring the lead to 30-26 ‘Cats. Kentucky struggled to find a rotation that clicked heading into the half due to foul trouble, which led to Michigan State nailing their fifth three-pointer of the half that gave them a 36-34 lead at halftime. The Spartans shot 48% from the field in the half (38% from 3-point range) and outrebounded the ‘Cats 18-16. Kentucky shot 42% from the field (just 20% from 3 on 2-10 shooting). Tshiebwe led the way for the ‘Cats in the half with 7 rebounds in 12 minutes. Foul trouble led to Toppin only seeing the court for 8 first half minutes, leading to Calipari having to mix and match rotations early in the season. The ‘Cats did take care of the ball in the half, committing just 4 first half turnovers.

To start the second half, the ‘Cats rolled out Wheeler, Wallace, Frederick, Toppin, and Tshiebwe. The half started with a jumper by Hall over an outstretched Wallace for the Spartans. The ‘Cats first points of the half came in the form of a Tshiebwe layup thanks to a powerful post move. A corner three-pointer by Toppin tied the game at 39. After swapping three-pointers, Wheeler nails another three to even the score at 42. After the Wheeler three, the first booming “GO BIG BLUE” chant breaks out in the Kentucky crowd in an attempt to boost the ‘Cats into a run. Tshiebwe collected his first double-double of the season with 14:32 left to play in the game. A driving floating layup by Wallace gives Kentucky a 44-42 lead. That was followed by a Wallace steal and score in transition to move the score to 46-42 at the under 12-minute media timeout. The Spartans ended a 7-0 ‘Cats run with a putback layup out of the timeout. A spinning post move by Tshiebwe drew an and-one opportunity for the ‘Cats and gave them a 50-47 lead with 9 minutes to play. A questionable call for an offensive foul on Tshiebwe gave him three fouls with 8 minutes left. After a Tshiebwe dunk and a Spartan offensive foul, Frederick drained his first three of the game to give Kentucky a 56-52 lead with 5 minutes to play. The lead shrunk to 2 at the final media timeout. After the Spartans tied the game at 58, an offensive rebound putback by Tshiebwe off a Toppin missed free throw grew the lead to 61-58 ‘Cats. With the score sitting at 61-60, the Spartans call a timeout to draw up a play with 35 seconds remaining. After an offensive rebound off a miss for Michigan State, Wallace ties up a Spartan to lead to a jump ball, giving Kentucky the ball with 15 seconds to play. Wallace made 1-2 free throws and the Spartans call another timeout to draw up a game-tying or game-winning play. After a huge Tshiebwe rejection to erase a game-tying layup, the ‘Cats get lost defensively and allow an easy cutting dunk on the incoming in-bounds play. Calipari called a rare late-game timeout with 3.7 seconds left to draw up a play for the ‘Cats. Unfortunately for the ‘Cats, the play broke down and ended with a failed half-court heave by Toppin. The score was tied at 62 as it headed to overtime.

The first points of overtime were two Toppin free throws to give Kentucky a 2-point lead. A deep Wheeler three extended the lead to 5 with 3-minutes to play. A quick 5-0 Spartan run tied the game at 67. The ‘Cats retook the lead with a Wheeler free throw. After a physical Toppin rebound, another angled Wheeler layup extended the lead again to 3-points, but the Spartans responded with another deep 2-pointer to bring the lead back to just 1, 70-69. An illegal screen by Tshiebwe fouled him out of the game and gave Michigan State the ball with 33-seconds to play. An incredible defensive possession by the Wildcats, specifically Ware led to a missed shot and rebound by Wallace, who gets fouled. Wallace again makes just 1-2 free throws to give Kentucky a 71-69 lead with 7.6 seconds left. Another defensive breakdown by the ‘Cats on a brilliant play design by Izzo saw Hall tie the game with an easy layup and sends the game to a second overtime.

The ’Cats were without Tshiebwe for the second overtime. Toppin also started the overtime with 4 fouls. The first points of the second overtime are a Frederick free-throw line jumper. Two ensuing Spartan free-throws re-ties the game at 73. A Wallace corner three gives Kentucky a 76-73 lead with 4-minutes to play. A trio of Spartan free-throws again re-ties the game at 76. Michigan State took a 78-76 lead with an alley-oop dunk to Sissoko with 1:39 to play. Two more Spartan free-throws and another alley-oop slam by Sissoko iced the game as the ‘Cats continued to breakdown defensively on key possessions. The Spartans went on the hit their late-game free throws and defeated the ‘Cats 86-77 in a double overtime contest. Michigan State ended the game on a 13-1 run as the ‘Cats struggled on both ends with Tshiebwe out of the lineup.

The Spartans finished the game shooting 41% from the court (37% from 3), while the ‘Cats shot 39% (28% from 3). Michigan State outrebounded Kentucky 45-38. The ‘Cats leading scorer and rebounder was Tshiebwe, as he collected 22 points and 18 rebounds. Tshiebwe was also the plus/minus leader for Kentucky with a +10 in the game. Wheeler distributed the ball well for the ‘Cats as he finished with 16 points and 8 assists. Wallace shined in the matchup, stuffing his stat sheet with 14 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and a whopping 8 steals (tied the all-time UK single game steal record). While the ‘Cats fell short in their first true battle in Indianapolis, Tshiebwe, Wallace, and the ‘Cats will look to build on their performance later in the week when they take on South Carolina State and Gonzaga.

Kentucky’s next game is Thursday, November 17 at 7:00 p.m. versus the South Carolina Sate Bulldogs as the ‘Cats return to Rupp Arena. The game will be televised on SEC Network.

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