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Lexington, KY 3-1-23
After riding a 4-game winning streak heading into Wednesday nights matchup with Vanderbilt, the ‘Cats (20-10, 11-6 SEC) fell to the Commodores (17-13, 10-7 SEC) by a score of 68-66 in their final home game of the season. The night also acted as Senior Day for the ‘Cats, who recognized 6 Seniors on the team, as well as Senior members throughout the pep band, cheerleaders, and dance team. Brennan Canada, a Kentucky native from Mt. Sterling, was one of the 6 Seniors recognized prior to the game on Wednesday night. Canada has been with the team for the last 4 seasons and has accumulated 9 career points. The other Seniors for the ‘Cats included CJ Frederick, Antonio Reeves, Jacob Toppin, Oscar Tshiebwe, and Sahvir Wheeler. Wheeler was absent for the ceremony after undergoing a minor procedure that was unrelated to his ankle injury. All 6 of those players have the opportunity to return to Kentucky for another season but will make that decision after the conclusion of this season. The ‘Cats led for most of the first half until the final minute as they took a 34-30 deficit into the half. Kentucky did not retake the lead again until the just over a minute remaining in the game off a Tshiebwe layup, but quickly relinquished that lead and ultimately fell to the Commodores in the Rupp Arena season finale. Vanderbilt arrived in Lexington fresh off a 88-72 win over the Colin Castleton-less Florida Gators last Saturday. Prior to their win, the Commodores were 7th in the conference with a record of 9-7. The Commodores checked in ranked No. 85 in the latest NET rankings. Vanderbilt’s offense is led by Liam Robbins (15.5 PPG, 7.1 RPG), Tyrin Lawrence (11.4 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 31.4% 3PT), Jordan Wright (9.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG), and Myles Stute (9.1 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 38.4% 3PT). Liam Robbins, one of the primary offensive weapons for Vanderbilt, was out for the first matchup against the ‘Cats due to injury. Robbins only played 4-minutes in Wednesday nights matchup due to a lower leg injury suffered during the game. For the ‘Cats, they entered the game on a 4-game winning streak and were recently ranked No. 23 in the country in the latest AP poll. The ‘Cats also checked in ranked No. 19 in the NET rankings. With an 11-5 record heading into their matchup versus the Commodores, the ‘Cats had a firm hold on the 3-seed in the upcoming SEC tournament, that might now be in peril following the surprising home loss. The ‘Cats offense has been led by Oscar Tshiebwe (16.4 PPG, 12.8 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 57% FG), Antonio Reeves (13.4 PPG, 42.2% 3PT), Jacob Toppin (12.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.3 APG, 70% 3PT in last 5 games), and Cason Wallace (11.9 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 4.3 APG, 36.2% 3PT) this season. Some keys to the game for the ‘Cats included getting off to a good start on the offensive end, continued consistency from the starting lineup (Wallace/Reeves/Livingston/Toppin/Tshiebwe), three-point shooting with Reeves/Frederick/Wallace, and staying engaged on the defensive end consistently.
The Senior Day starting lineup for the ‘Cats featured Brennan Canada, CJ Frederick, Antonio Reeves, Jacob Toppin, and Oscar Tshiebwe.
The first point of the game came from the charity stripe when Toppin hit 1-2 to give the ‘Cats a 1-0 lead. After a driving Vanderbilt layup, Reeves drove through Commodore defenders to finish an and-one opportunity that pushed the ‘Cats back in front 4-2. After another Vanderbilt layup, Tshiebwe drove by Robbins for another and-one finish for the ‘Cats, that brought the score to 7-4 Kentucky. Kentucky led 9-6 at the under 16-minute media timeout. Robbins went down with an injury at the 15:51 mark in the first half with what looked to be a lower right leg injury. Vanderbilt tied the game at 11 with a three before Toppin pulled up for a mid-range jumper to push the ‘Cats in front 13-11. The teams were tied at 15 apiece at the under 12-minute media timeout, with the ‘Cats having started the game 0-7 from three-point range. Reeves picked up his second foul at the 10:15 mark in the half. Thiero put the ‘Cats back in front with a mid-range jumper, 18-17. Frederick nailed a three for his first Senior Day points to give the ‘Cats a 21-17 lead with 8-minutes to play in the half with a quick 6-0 Kentucky run. Vanderbilt ended a 4-minute scoring drought with a mid-range jumper that brought he score to 21-19 Kentucky. Frederick converted an and-one mid-range shot that pushed the ‘Cats lead to 24-19 with 5:21 to play in the half. The score at the under 4-minute media timeout saw the ‘Cats take a 26-21 lead. Collins found an offensive rebound off a missed Toppin three and slammed down a dunk. Vanderbilt hit a corner three that was followed by a mid-range Wallace jumper that brought the score to 30-26 ‘Cats. The Commodores hit another three followed up by a transition basket that gave Vanderbilt a 31-30 lead with 52-seconds left in the half. After a Kentucky turnover, Vanderbilt hit a three just before the halftime buzzer that pushed the Commodores lead to 34-30. The ‘Cats shot just 32% from the field in the half and went just 1-11 from three. Vanderbilt shot 36% from the field and 31% (4-13 3PT) from beyond the arc. Reeves and Frederick led the ‘Cats in scoring in the first half with 6-points each. Tshiebwe added 5-points and 9-rebounds in the half. Wright led all scorers in the game with 12 first half points for the Commodores. The half served as the worst 20-minute stretch since the Georgia game for Kentucky. Constant whistles and foul calls limited teams’ ability to get into an offensive flow. Ball movement throughout the half was good for the ‘Cats but they failed to hit open shots. Defensive intensity and offensive focus were key objectives for a successful second half.
The second half scoring began with an easy Vanderbilt driving layup, stretching their lead to 36-30. Cason Wallace went down with an injury just a minute in the half and the ‘Cats trailing 36-32. The Commodores hit a deep three as the shot clock was expiring and followed that up with an and-one that sparked a quick 6-0 run to extend their lead to 44-35 with 16:30 to play in the game. Reeves drove in for a floater and hit a free-throw off a “flop” call on Vanderbilt that brought the score to 46-38. Livingston corralled a steal and threw down a transition slam to narrow the deficit to 46-40. Toppin hit two free-throws to propel the ‘Cats to an 8-0 run and brought the score to 46-43 Vanderbilt. Livingston responded to a Commodores three with a three of his own as Vanderbilt led 49-47 with 12:30 to play. Vanderbilt took a 51-47 lead into the under 12-minute media timeout. Vanderbilt hit another deep three as the shot clock was winding down to push their lead to 54-48. The Commodores held a 7-point lead by a score of 57-50 with 8-minutes to play in the game. A trio of Tshiebwe free-throws followed by a transition Reeves three narrowed the ‘Cats deficit to 1 at 57-56. Vanderbilt hit a couple free-throws to stretch their lead back to 3 by a score of 59-56 with 5:32 to play. Vanderbilt nailed another three to re-extended their lead to 6, 64-58. The score at the under 4-minute media timeout was 64-59 Vanderbilt. Two Toppin free-throws brought the ‘Cats within 3 at 64-61. Tshiebwe collected an offensive rebound and slammed down two points to bring the score to 64-63. Tshiebwe then responded on the defensive end with a stellar defensive play that led to a free-throw chance for Reeves. Reeves hit 1-2 free-throws to tie the game at 64 with 2:30 to play. Failed offensive possessions from both teams led to a Vanderbilt timeout with 1:43 remaining and the score tied at 64. Vanderbilt drew up a perfect play to have a wide-open three but failed to convert. The ‘Cats got the ball inside to Tshiebwe to take a 66-64 lead but the Commodores quickly responded with an easy layup to tie the game. After a missed Reeves jumper, Wright hit a fade-away jumper from the free-throw line to give Vanderbilt a 68-66 lead with 2.6-seconds left to play. Th
e ‘Cats drew up a play for Reeves who had a chance to win it at the buzzer but failed to draw iron as the ‘Cats fell 68-66 in the final home game of the season.
Vanderbilt shot 40% from the field and 33% from 3PT (8-24). Kentucky shot an abysmal 32% from the field and just 16% from 3PT (3-19). The ‘Cats dominated the boards by a count of 48-35. Tshiebwe had a Senior Day line of 21-points, 20-rebounds, and 3-blocks. Toppin posted 7-
points, 10-rebounds, and a team leading 2-assists in 37-minutes. With Reeves running primary point guard in the second half after the Wallace injury, he struggled on offense to the tune of 14-points on 4-17 FG and 1-8 3PT. Thiero posted the best plus/minus total for the ‘Cats with a +9 in just 8-minutes of action. Wallace did not play the final 19-minutes of the game due to a right leg injury. Coach Calipari updated the health status of Cason Wallace after the game, stating that the point guard’s x-rays on his knee were negative and that his swelling was limited. When asked about the availability of Wallace for Saturdays upcoming matchup versus Arkansas, Calipari was unsure, stating “if he cant go, I’m going to have to figure out how to draw up a game plan with a lineman playing quarterback.” It was a disappointing end of the home schedule for the ‘Cats after they had built up momentum heading into the home stretch of the season with postseason tournaments fast approaching, but it will be important for the ‘Cats to keep their focus as they attempt to bounce back after an emotional Senior Day loss.
The ‘Cats (20-10, 11-6 SEC) will look to regain their focus and momentum as they head to Fayetteville for their final regular season game of the season when they take on the Arkansas Razorbacks (19-11, 8-9 SEC) on Saturday, March 4. Tip-off is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. The game will be televised on CBS.