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The ‘Cats fell to the UNCW Seahawks at home on Saturday afternoon by a score of 80-73. The ‘Cats were fresh off of a huge 22-point win over No. 8 Miami earlier this week in the same building. The ‘Cats had built a mountain of momentum heading into Saturday’s matchup, but the ‘Cats faltered in nearly every aspect of the game. The only bright spot for the ‘Cats on Saturday continued to be the insurgence of star Freshman and Kentucky native Reed Sheppard. Sheppard led Kentucky in scoring with 25 points while stuffing the rest of the stat sheet with 9 rebounds and 6 assists. Sheppard received his first start of his young Kentucky career with fellow Freshman guard DJ Wagner out for the game with an ankle injury. The ‘Cats have not played a game this season with a fully healthy roster. Saturday marked the first action of the season for Freshman Center Aaron Bradshaw. Bradshaw had been out with a foot injury but recently returned to full practice earlier last week. Bradshaw flashed his potential in the game, scoring his first points via an athletic dunk and blocking a shot in just 13-minutes of game action. While this Kentucky team will surely regroup and likely go on a big run at some point this season, it’s a reminder of how young this team still is and a clear indication that growing pains are going to occur throughout the season. This team has already shown it can beat any team or lose to any team in the country on any given night. All teams throw up clunkers from time to time, but rarely do Championship and Final Four teams lose on their home court to non-conference opponents. In fact, only 2 of Kentucky 17 Final Four teams have lost to a non-conference opponent at home (1957-58 and 1997-98), and no Kentucky Final Four team has ever lost to a non-Power 5 non-conference opponent at home. Still, there is no need to near the panic button for this ‘Cats team yet, as they have shown a glimpse of their potential and will continue to grow their game and confidence together as the season progresses.

The spread for Satudays matchup against UNCW was -18.5 (UK) with an Over/Under point total set at 151.5.

The ‘Cats starting lineup featured Reed Sheppard (first career start), Antonio Reeves, Justin Edwards, Adou Thiero, and Tre Mitchell.

Game Recap:

First Half

Kentucky won the tip and Sheppard missed the first three-point attempt of the game. UNCW scored the first points with a driving layup. The Seahawks hit a three on the next trip and Edwards scored the first points of the game for Kentucky with a driving score. The ‘Cats ran out in transition for an easy transition lay-in. UNCW hit another three for an early 8-4 lead at the first media timeout. The Seahawks hit a three then stole a pass and scored again for a 13-4 lead. Bradshaw checked in for the first time in a Kentucky uniform. Mitchell hit the ‘Cats first three of the game. Bradshaw caught a post pass and jammed home his first points of his career. Bradshaw was fouled in transition and went to the free-throw line. He hit 1 of 2 and UNCW led 15-10 with 12:23-minutes to play. Theiro hit two free-throws then drove and scored to make the score 17-14 UNCW. The Seahawks hit another three to push the lead back to 6 at 20-14. The Seahawks took a 22-17 lead into the under 8-minute timeout with both teams playing sloppy basketball. The ‘Cats had not converted a field goal in a 4-minute stretch and had already committed 8 turnovers in the game. Thiero cut to the basket and converted an and-one opportunity off a pass from Mitchell. The score sat at 26-22 UNCW after the made free-throw. UNCW hit back-to-back threes to take a 10 point lead at 32-22 with 3:37-minutes to play. The Seahawks hit another set of back-to-back threes with a foul coming on the second of the two. UNCW led 38-24 with 3-minutes left. Sheppard drove and hit a mid-range jumper. Dillingham scored in transition to narrow the deficit to 38-28. UNCW converted an and-one chance after their timeout. Sheppard responded with a three, his first of the game. Sheppard went coast-to-coast for another score to bring the score to 41-33. UNCW led 41-33 at the half.

The ‘Cats finished a disappointing half of basketball hitting their last 3 shots. That helped the ‘Cats narrow a 14-point deficit down to just 8 at the half. Kentucky shot just 38% from the field and 25% (2 of 8) form 3PT. The Seahawks shot 43% from the field and 40% (8 of 20) from 3PT. The ‘Cats offense looked sluggish throughout the half, with the team clearly missing one of their leading contributors in DJ Wagner (out with injury). The offense struggled to get open shots and the team failed to execute sharp passes (just 6 first half assists). The 9 first half turnovers are a first half season-high. UNCW hit 8 first half three after hitting just 3 total threes in their last game. The ‘Cats also struggled to disrupt the Seahawks passing lanes, creating just 3 steals and forcing only 6 turnovers. Bradshaw played well in his first half of basketball. He saw 9-minutes of action and had the only positive plus/minus total of +9 in the game for Kentucky. All other ‘Cats had negative plus/minus totals. UNCW successfully slowed the pace of the game down in the first half, forcing the ‘Cats to play the most half-court offense and defense of any other game this season. The ‘Cats will look to focus on perimeter defense and creating easy transition baskets in the second half.

Halftime: Kentucky 33 – UNCW 41

Second Half

The second half began with a missed chance for Mitchell on the offensive end. Sheppard found a cutting Edwards for a jam to make the score 41-35 UNCW. Reeves hit a floater in the lane for another easy score. UNCW converted a three-point play on their next trip. Reeves responded with a three on the other end. Sheppard was fouled on a three-point shot and went to the line for three shots. He hit all three free-throws as the ‘Cats drew within 1 at 44-43. Reeves drove to the lane and answered the UNCW jumper. Sheppard hit a deep three for the Kentucky lead at 48-46 at the under 16-minute media timeout. UNCW hit a corner three out of the timeout. Mitchell hit two free-throws and Reeves hit another floater for a 52-49 lead. Sheppard pulled up from deep and nailed it for a 55-49 lead. UNCW went on a quick 7-0 run to retake the lead. The Seahawks then hit a three to take a 59-56 lead with 10-minutes to play. Two more free-throws added to a 13-1 UNCW run and gave the Seahawks a 62-56 lead. Edwards hit a layup under the basket. The ‘Cats defense forced a shot-clock violation on the next stand. Sheppard drove and scored to bring the score to 62-60 UNCW. Sheppard hit a floater to keep the deficit at 2. Edwards was called for foul on a questionable call but UNCW missed both free-throws. Reeves missed a three and then UNCW hit a three to push the lead to 67-62. Mitchell converted an and-one chance and the score sat at 67-64 with 3:39-minutes to play. Mitchell missed the free-throw. Reeves fouled out with 3-minutes to play and the ‘Cats down 69-64. Edwards cut and scored off a pass from Sheppard to cut the deficit to 70-66. Sheppard scored an-one chance after UNCW responded with a basket. The score sat at 72-69 after the free-throw. UNCW scored again at the rim on the next possession. Mitchell was fouled and went to the line for a 1-and-1. UNCW led 74-69 with 54-seconds to play. The ‘Cats defense collapsed again and allowed another score at the rim to push the score to 76-69 UNCW. Kentucky stole the inbounds under the basket but threw the ball away after a chance to score. The ’Cats couldn’t convert anything on offense and UNCW hit their free-throws. The ‘Cats fell at home to the UNCW Seahawks by a score of 80-73.

Final: Kentucky 73 – UNCW 80

The ’Cats made a run to retake the lead midway through the second half, leading by as many as 6 points. The Seahawks quickly responded, however, and went on a lengthy 13-1 run to reestablish their lead over the ‘Cats and never looked back. The ‘Cats hung around but the Seahawks, led by White, hit shots when they had to have them. The ‘Cats tried to manufacture opportunities late in the game but couldn’t consistently execute on either the offensive or the defensive end. The ‘Cats defense has been the problem so far this season, but to this point, the team had enough offense to counteract the lack of defensive ability. UNCW guards repeatedly took the Kentucky defenders off the dribble and to the rim for scores during crunch time. The ‘Cats just couldn’t put together stops when they needed to the most. Sheppard was clearly the best player on the court for Kentucky, as he has been throughout the early part of the season. Bradshaw had a positive impact in the first half, but the ‘Cats became stagnant when he re-entered in the second half. Bradshaw did finish the game with the only positive plus/minus total for Kentucky, finishing with +11 in 13-minutes of action. There will continue to be growing pains as the season continues with the young ‘Cats. Saturday afternoon highlighted the importance of DJ Wagner on this team and his ability to consistently get to the rim and score points when the team is in an offensive rut. The lack of guard play outside of Sheppard was alarming on both sides of the ball. It was a tail of two extremes this week for Kentucky, with a win over No. 8 Miami and a loss to UNCW. It will be interesting to see where the ‘Cats settle in the AP Poll next week after a hectic week across all of college basketball.

Game Stats:

UNCW FG %: 43% (35% 3PT – 11 of 31) (65% FT – 13 of 20)

Kentucky FG %: 41% (29% 3PT – 5 of 16) (80% FT – 20 of 25)

Rebounds: 40 – 39 UNCW

Assist/Turnover Ratio: 14:13

Turnovers: UK (13), UNCW (12)

Bench Points: 46 – 5 UNCW

Points off Turnovers: 10 – 10 Tie

Fast Break Points: 12 – 12 Tie

Paint Points: 36 – 28 Kentucky

Player Stats:

Reed Sheppard – [(25 points) (9 rebounds) (6 assists) (2 steals)]

Antonio Reeves – [(14 points (3 rebounds) (1 steal)]

Tre Mitchell – [(11 points) (6 rebounds) (3 assists) (1 block)]

Justin Edwards – [(11 points) (6 rebounds) (2 assists) (2 steals) (1 block)]

Adou Thiero – [(7 points) (6 rebounds) (1 block)]

Aaron Bradshaw – [(3 points) (2 rebounds) (1 block)]

Rob Dillingham – [(2 points) (4 rebounds) (3 assists) (1 steal)]

The ‘Cats’ next game is Saturday, December 9 against the Pennsylvania Quakers (5-4) at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Tip-off is scheduled for 12:00 p.m. EST. The game will be televised on ESPN 2.

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