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Lexington, KY 12-21-22

Following another disappointing showing in a marquee matchup against UCLA last Saturday (63-53 Loss) in the CBS Sports Classis at The Garden, the ‘Cats bounced back for a 20-point win over the Florida A&M Rattlers at Rupp Arena in front of a good crowd Wednesday night by a score of 88-68. The ‘Cats entered the contest ranked No. 19 in the country with a 7-3 record on the season. The ‘Cats are ranked No. 30 in the most recent NET rankings. For a reference, the Rattlers (2-7 on the season) entered the contest ranked No. 359 in the NET rankings out of a possible 363 Division I teams. The Rattlers have had a tough season to this point, with their resume featuring some massive deficits in the form of a 35-point loss to Oregon, 37-point loss to Portland, 40-point loss to Florida, and a 22-point loss to Georgia. The Rattlers did keep Louisville close in their matchup on Saturday, falling by just 6-points to the Cardinals. The Rattlers average just 54.9 PPG on the season, shoot just 26.8% from three-point range, and commit an average of 18 turnovers per game. The ‘Cats average 77.8 PPG, shoot 38.1% from three, and commit 12.1 turnovers on average. On paper, it was clear the ‘Cats should have the ability to overwhelm the Rattlers on Wednesday night. The spread for the game was a whopping -37.5 in favor of the ‘Cats. Some keys to look for in the matchup were shooting (Frederick!!!, Reeves, and Wallace) in the form of threes and free-throws, guard rotations and the ability to get the offense into a consistent rhythm, Livingstons impact after his breakout versus UCLA (season-high 14 points), Onyenso/Ware/Collins impact behind Oscar, and Coach Calipari allowing some players to play through their early season struggles (i.e. Frederick).

Coach Calipari mentioned earlier this week that he would mix up the starting lineup in the coming games. The remodeled starting lineup featured the same five that initiated the “spark” against UCLA in the form of Wheeler, Wallace, Livingston, Tshiebwe, and Ware. Kentucky also debuted their new black jerseys with a metallic blue trimming for Wednesday night’s matchup.

Game Recap:

The game scoring started with a driving layup by the Rattlers. Wallace quickly responded for the ‘Cats with a stop and pop floater to even the score at 2 apiece. A steal by Wallace followed by an accurate transition pass down the court led to a breakaway slam for Livingston. An 11-0 run for the ‘Cats featuring a couple of Tshiebwe layups and a Wallace corner three pushed the ‘Cats ahead by a score of 11-2. The ‘Cats stretched that 11-0 run to a 16-0 run heading into the under 16-minute media timeout with the ‘Cats leading 16-2. Coach Calipari made his first substitutions of the game at the 14-minute mark with the ‘Cats leading 18-7. The score at the under 12-minute media timeout saw the ‘Cats lead sit at 22-7. Wheeler found Frederick in transition for an open three that Frederick sank to push the ‘Cats lead to 25-9 with 10-minutes to play in the half. The Rattlers rattled off a 6-0 run of their own to bring the ‘Cats lead down to 10 at 25-15. Frederick nailed his second three of the game (most since November 30th versus Bellarmine) just to follow it up with his third three of the game on the ‘Cats next possession to give the ‘Cats a 31-18 lead. Adou Thiero checked into the game with 6:34 remaining in the half for his first game action since November 23rd against North Florida. Ware continued to impress with his newfound minutes, bringing an energy and hustle that no other ‘Cat consistently displays. The Rattlers drew back within 10 after nailing another three bringing the score to 35-25 ‘Cats. A deep Reeves three gave the ‘Cats a 39-27 lead with 2-minutes left in the first half. Toppin converted an acrobatic and-one to push the ‘Cats lead back up to 15. The Rattlers finished the half hitting 5 of their last 7 shots to draw back within 10 with a halftime score of 42-32 ‘Cats. Both teams displayed some hot shooting in the first half as the Rattlers shot 52% from the field (50% from three-point range) and the ‘Cats shot 48% (55% from three, 6 made threes). Frederick led the way for the ‘Cats in first half scoring with 9 points (3 made threes).

The second half scoring started with a driving Wallace layup, while the Rattlers quickly responded with a layup of their own. Wallace started the second half hot, nailing a three to push the ‘Cats lead to 47-34. Wallace stayed active on the defense end, per usual, as he collected a steal and converted an and-one opportunity but missed the free-throw. Wallace scored the first 7 points of the second half for the ‘Cats. A Livingston three pushed the lead to 18 by a score of 54-38. Livingston and Wallace converted back-to-back driving dunks as they curled off a screen for the easy score on consecutive plays. The score sat at 58-42 ‘Cats with 14:36 to play in the game. A stop and pop three at the top of the key from Wallace off a screen pushed the Kentucky lead to 20, 62-42. A perfectly executed two-man screen play by Wallace and Onyenso resulted in an alley-oop slam from Onyenso that gave the ‘Cats a 66-48 lead with 11:24 remaining in the game. Another Wallace three out of the timeout gave him his 15th second half point with 10:38 left to play and the ‘Cats leading 69-51. An 11-0 Florida A&M run narrowed the ‘Cats lead to 69-59 with 8-minutes to play. Another Rattlers three brought the score to 69-62 with just 6-minutes to play. The ‘Cats finally ended a 14-0 Rattlers run via a Tshiebwe layup to bring the score to 71-62. After a Reeves driving slam on the baseline the ‘Cats took a 77-66 lead into the under 4-minute media timeout. Frederick made the extra pass to Reeves in the corner for a three out of the media timeout that gave the ‘Cats a 80-66 lead. Another good entry pass from Frederick led to a shooting foul for the ‘Cats where Tshiebwe hit both free-throws to extend the lead to 16, 82-66 with 2:30 to play. Back-to-back Kentucky threes from Wallace and Frederick saw the ‘Cats finish the game on a 13-2 run and go on to a 88-68 win over the Florida A&M Rattlers.

The usually cold shooting Rattlers were hitting their shots on Wednesday night against the ‘Cats as they finished the game shooting 52% from the field and 56% from three-point range. The ‘Cats also shot the ball well to the tune of 53% from the field (57% from three, 13 made threes). The ‘Cats dominated the boards, outrebounding the Rattlers 37-18. Wallace finished as the player of the game, collecting a season-high 27 points (5 for 6 from three, 20 second half points), 9 assists (team-high), and 4 steals. Three other ‘Cats finished the game in double figures scoring including Tshiebwe (14 points), Frederick (12 points), and Reeves (10 points). Tsheibwe led the rebounding attack with a team-high 8 rebounds. Tshiebwe was also the plus/minus leader for the ‘Cats, posting a +26 in 27 minutes of action. As Coach Calipari tweaked the rotation slightly, Wheeler finished the game playing just 20-minutes. The ‘Cats excelled with Wallace running the point late in the game, creating a consistent offensive flow down the stretch. The ‘Cats committed just 9 turnovers in the game as they protected the ball well throughout the night.

The ’Cats get a short break for the Christmas holiday before their next matchup on Wednesday, December 28 at 7:00 p.m. as they hit the road for their first SEC game of the season versus the Missouri Tigers. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.


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