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The ‘Cats returned to Rupp Arena to take on the Georgia Bulldogs following their biggest of the season over No. 5 Tennessee last Saturday in Knoxville (63-56). Kentucky started the game slow and seemed to have reverted back to old habits throughout the first half. The ‘Cats woke up in a big way in the second half, however, as they outscored the Bulldogs by a count of 51-29 as they went on to win 85-71 in a late night at Rupp. The Bulldogs entered the game with a 13-4 record on the season and had started conference play at a 3-1 clip. Their best win came against Auburn a couple weeks ago in Athens (76-64). The Bulldogs checked in at No. 92 in the latest NET rankings and had gone 1-2 in Quad I matchups. The Bulldogs leading scorers on the season is Terry Roberts (15.6 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 4.2 APG) and Kario Oquendo (12.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG). For the ‘Cats, they checked in at No. 41 in the latest NET rankings coming off their big win over Tennessee. The ‘Cats offensive attack is led by Tshiebwe (16.1 PPG, 13.5 RPG), Reeves (12.3 PPG, 40.9% from three), Wallace (9.9 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.5 APG) and Frederick (13.5 PPG over last 2 games). A key to look for before the game was the usage of the “Core” lineup that has played well over the course of the season when it is on the court together in the form of Wallace, Frederick, Reeves, Toppin, and Tshiebwe. Some other keys to the game were establishing an offensive rhythm, playing to the situation (pace of play; deliberate or up-tempo), the bench impact and Wheeler in his return to the court after missing the Tennessee game due to a shoulder injury.

The starting lineup featured Wallace, Frederick, Reeves, Toppin, and Tshiebwe.

Game Recap:

The game scorings started with a driving layup by Georgia after a slow start on the offensive side of the ball from both teams. Tshiebwe quickly responded with a mid-range jumper to tie the game at 2. After a 5-0 run by the Bulldogs, the ‘Cats responded with a three from Wallace that brought the score to 7-5 Georgia at the under 16-minute media timeout. After a few layups by the Bulldogs, Tshiebwe converted an and-one opportunity that brought the score to 11-10 Georgia with 13:30 to play in the half. The score at the under 12-minute media timeout was 13-12 Bulldogs. After a turnover by the ‘Cats, Wheeler plucked it away from a Georgia guard and found Toppin in transition for a big dunk that put the ‘Cats in front 14-13. Wallace picked up two fouls on back-to-back possessions with 10:14 left in the half. The Bulldogs took a 22-16 lead with 7:50 left in the half. Reeves hit a driving floater that brought the score to 22-18 Georgia. The Bulldogs hit a three to push their lead to 25-18. A barrage of whistles and fouls carried the game to the next media timeout where the Bulldogs sat with a 33-24 lead after going on a mini 6-0 scoring run. Georgia took an 11-point lead with 2:15 to play in the half by a score of 38-27. The ‘Cats ended the half with a Wallace three who also nearly converted a layup before the buzzer that just rolled off the rim. The score at the half was 42-34 Georgia. The Bulldogs ended the half making 7 of their last 9 field goal attempts. The Bulldogs finished the half shooting 56% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc. The ‘Cats shot 33% from the field and 29% from three-point range. Tshiebwe led the offensive charge for the ‘Cats with 14 points and 9 rebounds. Wallace and Reeves both mixed in 6 points in the half. Roberts led the scoring attack for the Bulldogs with 13 first half points. Defensive communication and breakdowns were the key issue for the ‘Cats in the first half.

The second half scoring started with a layup by Tshiebwe that brought the score to 42-36 Georgia. Tshiebwe followed up the next possession with an and-one opportunity that brought the score to 42-39 Bulldogs. The Bulldogs responded with a three to push their lead back to 6 at 45-39 in a fast start to the second half. Tshiebwe again got a chance to convert an and-one opportunity. He missed the free-throw but tracked down his own miss to find a wide-open Frederick for a three that pushed the ‘Cats in front for the first time in the game by a score of 46-45 thanks to a lighting fast 7-0 run. After the Bulldogs broke the ‘Cats run, Tshiebwe and Livingston convert back-to-back layups that pushed their lead to 3 at 50-47 with 14:56 remaining in the game (Oscar’s stat line sat at 25 points and 15 rebounds). Reeves hit a three off a Toppin pass that broke the Bulldogs zone and pushed the score to 53-49 with 14:12 left to play. The Bulldogs nailed two threes in the next stretch to leave the game tied at 55 with 12:36 to play. Wallace split the defense and drove through the middle of the pain for a flying slam, but the Bulldogs pushed the ball down the floor and converted a transition slam as the ‘Cats were slow to get back defensively. Frederick drew a charge before the under 12-minute media timeout with the score tied at 57 apiece. Reeves and Wallace hit back-to-back long jumpers that brought the ‘Cats lead to 4 at 61-57. Tshiebwe initiated a steal and scored in transition to extend the ‘Cats lead to 67-60 with 7:38 to play in the game. The crowd erupted with boos as Calipari was assessed a technical foul for being out of the coaching box (he was warned earlier in the game). The Bulldogs missed the free-throw, and the next score was via a Tsheibwe free-throw that pushed the score to 70-62 Kentucky. Kentucky led 73-65 with 3:13 to play at the next media timeout. A steal in transition from Reeves led to a Tshiebwe dunk and another and-one opportunity. The score was 76-66 ‘Cats after the missed free-throw. Kentucky converted their possessions and hit their free-throws down the stretch (23-30 on the night) and went on to beat Georgia 85-71 to move to 12-6 on the season and 3-3 in conference play.

The Bulldogs shot 46% from the field (36% in second half) and 35% from three-point range in the game. The ‘Cats shot 44% (54.5% in second half) and 27% from beyond the arc. Tshiebwe and the ‘Cats dominated the boards by a count of 44-31. Tshiebwe had his best performance of the season on Tuesday night, posting a monster stat line of 37 points and 24 rebounds (11 offensive). Wallace posted 17 points while Toppin and Reeves added 11 points each. Toppin also collected a double-double with 11 rebounds to go along with his 11 points. Toppin also led the ‘Cats in assists with 4 in the game thanks to the zone by Georgia leading to easy passing opportunities from the middle. Wallace posted the best plus/minus total for the ‘Cats with a +22 in 28-minutes of action. Wheeler played just 11-minutes and did not score in the game. One interesting note from Tuesday’s matchup was that 79 out of 85 total points in the game were scored from the “core” five that were mentioned earlier (Wallace, Frederick, Reeves, Toppin, Tshiebwe). The only other ‘Cast to score Tuesday night were Livingston (4) and Onyenso (2). The game was often disrupted by the officials to the tune of 42 foul calls leading to 54 total free-throws in the game by both teams.

The ‘Cats look to have turned their season around after their surprising win over Tennessee and a win over Georgia at home on Tuesday. They look to continue their new-found success when they return to Rupp Arena Saturday, January 21 to take on the Texas A&M Aggies (12-5, 4-0 SEC). Tip off is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN.

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