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The ‘Cats returned to Lexington for the first time since their puzzling December 2nd loss to UNCW. Since that loss, the ‘Cats have gone 3-0 with wins over Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, North Carolina in Atlanta, and Louisville on the road. The ‘Cats recently climbed to No. 8 in the latest AP Poll as their national attention continues to rise. The ‘Cats defeated the Illinois State Redbirds by a score of 96-70 on Friday night at Rupp in front of a sold-out crowd. The offense was once again led by Antonio Reeves, who finished with a game-high 27 points. Dillingham and Sheppard once again provided their spark off the bench in route to the comfortable Kentucky win. Dillingham collected his nightly share of highlight reel plays and accumulated a 16-point, 7 assist stat line. Sheppard impacted the game in numerous ways on his way to an 11-pont, 5-rebound, 5-assist night. The ‘Cats take a 4 game win streak into conference play as they hit the road to take on Florida next weekend.

Antonio Reeves was coming off a 30-point performance at Louisville last week and is averaging a team-high 18.3 PPG while shooting 45.5% 3PT and adding 4.2 RPG. Rob Dillingham (14.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 4.3 APG, 44.4% 3PT), Reed Sheppard (12.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 4.3 APG, 2.8 SPG, 57.8% 3PT), and DJ Wagner (11.7 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 3.6 APG) round out the back court for the ‘Cats. Tre Mitchell (13.2 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 3.5 APG, 38.5% 3PT) and Aaron Bradshaw (8.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG) lead the front court for Kentucky.

The ’Cats were without front-court options Zvonimir Ivisic, who is still out due to NCAA eligibility issues and is currently in Croatia with his family, and Adou Thiero (soreness) for their matchup with Illinois State.

The spread for Friday nights matchup versus Illinois State was -19.5 (UK). The Over/Under point total was set at 149.5.

The starting lineup for Kentucky featured DJ Wagner, Antonio Reeves, Justin Edwards, Tre Mitchell, and Aaron Bradshaw.

Game Recap:

First Half

The Redbirds won the tip and converted an and-one opportunity to open the scoring in the game. Illinois State took an early 3-0 lead after the free-throw. Reeves, the Illinois State transfer, opened the scoring for the ‘Cats with a running floater off the glass. Edwards scored a runout layup for the Kentucky lead, then followed it up with a catch and shoot three. Wagner flew by his defender on his way to an easy lay-in to give Kentucky a 9-7 lead. The Redbirds responded with a three to retake the lead. Illinois State nailed another three for a 13-9 lead at the first media timeout. Sheppard and Dillingham were the first off the bench for the ‘Cats, as always. Dillingham immediately scored on a floater off an out of bounds play for Kentucky. Reeves hit his signature floater once again to even the score at 13 all. Sheppard nailed a three for his first points of the game to give Kentucky a 16-13 lead. Reeves scored a putback off a missed Onyenso free-throw. The ‘Cats led 18-15 with 11:32-minutes to play in the half. Bradshaw cleaned up a Sheppard missed three for an easy score and a 20-15 ‘Cats lead. Wagner shook his defender for another easy layup. Sheppard stripped the ball and Dillingham found a wide-open slashing Edwards for a slam to give the ‘Cats a 24-16 lead with 9-minutes to play. Sheppard hit a long pull up two-pointer to push the lead to 9 at 26-17. Sheppard swatted a Redbirds shot as the game headed to the under 8-minute timeout. Reeves hit another floater in the middle of the lane and got fouled for an and-one chance. The ‘Cats led 29-19 after the made free-throw. Reeves followed up a Redbirds field goal with his first three of the game. Sheppard drove the ball down the lane and converted a three-point play with the foul. Wagner zoomed by his defender once more for another score at the rim. Wagner then hit a transition three on the next possession. Kentucky led 40-25 at the under 4-minute media timeout. A sloppy possession resulted in a Redbirds three but Onyenso and the ‘Cats ran the floor and resulted in an Onyenso slam following the basket. Sheppard found Dillingham in the corner for a wide-open three that found the net. Kentucky led 45-30 at the half.

The ‘Cats came out of the gate a little slow, but found their stride after about 10 minutes into the game. Reeves led the team in scoring with 12 first half points. Wagner added 9 points while Sheppard mixed in 8 points in the half. Dillingham once again brought energy to the team and arena with his polarizing style of play as he accumulated 5 points, 3 rebounds, and 5 assists in the half. The ‘Cats defense held the Redbirds to just 34% from the field and 21% (3 of 14) from 3PT in the first half. Kentucky shot a glowing 59% from the field and 38% (5 of 13) from 3PT range. The ‘Cats committed just 1 first half turnover coupled with 13 first half assists and 3 steals.

Halftime: Kentucky 45 – Illinois State 30

Second Half

The second half scoring began with an Illinois State three pointer. Edwards slashed and scored the first Kentucky points of the half to bring the score to 47-33 ‘Cats. Reeves responded to another Redbirds three with a three of his own. Sheppard nailed a three to push the score to 55-38. Sheppard scurried for a loose ball and found Reeves in the corner for a three. Kentucky led 58-40 at the first media timeout. Burks found himself open for an easy layin following the timeout. Mitchell nailed a three to give the ‘Cats a 63-40 lead. Dillingham scored an up and under basket and got fouled. Kentucky led the Redbirds 68-45 with 11:58-minutes to play. Wagner nailed another three then Sheppard stole a pass and Dillingham was fouled in transition. Kentucky led 73-47 following Dillingham’s free-throws. Both teams went cold from the floor for the next stretch that saw the clock dwindle under 6-minutes. Kentucky led 78-57 at the timeout. Burks hit 1 of 2 and Reeves hit 2 free-throws that brought the score to 83-61 ‘Cats. Reeves answered a Redbirds three with a step-back three. Dillingham saved an errant pass and found Burks for an easy slam. Dillingham then stole a pass and sprinted to the bucket for a transition slam. Wagner threw an alley-oop to Reeves for a soaring slam. Onyenso tapped in the next shot for the ‘Cats to give Kentucky a 96-70 lead with 45-seconds to play. Kentucky went on to win 96-70.

Final: Kentucky 96 – Illinois State 70

The ‘Cats ran away with the game in the second half while the offense continued to keep its 90 PPG pace. Reeves scored a very quiet 27-points (15 points in second half). Wagner looks to have found his three-point stroke as he hit 2 threes in the half. Mitchell continues to be a consistent paint presence while Bradshaw and Onyenso give the ‘Cats shot-blocking threats. Burks mixed in 11 energetic minutes with Thiero out. Dillingham and Sheppard pace the ‘Cats and are always a threat to break the game open at any moment. The ‘Cats finished the game shooting 57% from the field and 44% (11 of 25) from three-point range. The ‘Cats defense, which has been lacking so far this year, held the Redbirds to just 33% from the field and 23% (8 of 35) from three. Mitchell posted the highest plus/minus total in the game with a +30 in 29 minutes. Dillingham had +27 in 22 minutes and Sheppard contributed +25 in 24 minutes. The ‘Cats will look to continue their upward trend as they head into SEC play next week.

Game Stats:

Illinois State FG %: 33% (23% 3PT – 8 of 35) (56% FT – 10 of 18)

Kentucky FG %: 57% (44% 3PT – 11 of 25) (76% FT – 13 of 17)

Rebounds: 45 – 40 Illinois State

Assist/Turnover Ratio: 23:6

Turnovers: UK (6), Illinois State (8)

Bench Points: 36 – 5 Kentucky

Points off Turnovers: 15 – 4 Kentucky

Fast Break Points: 27 – 6 Kentucky

Paint Points: 44 – 36 Kentucky

Player Stats:

Antonio Reeves – [(27 points (6 rebounds) (2 assists)]

Rob Dillingham – [(16 points) (3 rebounds) (7 assists) (3 steals)]

DJ Wagner – [(14 points) (2 rebounds) (3 assists)]

Reed Sheppard – [(11 points) (5 rebounds) (5 assists) (2 steals) (2 blocks)]

Justin Edwards – [(9 points) (4 rebounds) (2 assists) (2 steals)]

Tre Mitchell – [(8 points) (11 rebounds) (4 assists) (1 block)]

Jordan Burks – [(5 points) (1 rebound) (2 blocks)]

Ugonna Onyenso – [(4 points) (2 rebounds) (3 blocks)]

Aaron Bradshaw – [(2 points) (1 rebound) (1 block)]

Conference play begins as the ‘Cats (10-2, 0-0 SEC) hit the road to take on the Florida Gators (9-3, 0-0 SEC) next Saturday, January 6 in Gainesville. Tipoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN.

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