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Lexington, KY 1-20-24
Big Z, meet Big Blue Nation. Big Blue Nation, meet Big Z. Zvonimir Ivisic had a Kentucky debut to remember as the Freshman Center from Croatia was cleared before the game on Saturday afternoon and saw his first game action of the season after a long wait. It took over 3 months for the NCAA to clear the Croation big man, but it turned out to be worth the wait for both Ivisic and the Wildcats. Ivisic finished the game with 13 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 3 blocks. Ivisic didn’t start the game but entered in early in the first half to an explosive welcoming from the Rupp Arena faithful. Ivisic turned in 11 first half points, hitting all four of his shots to begin the game and providing a strong defensive presence in blocking shots and gathering rebounds. The ‘Cats led the Bulldogs 54-35 in the first half. The second half was much of the same to start the half, and the ‘Cats led by as much as 28 with around 8-minutes to play in the game. Georgia finished the game strong with a 28-9 run and clawed all the way back to within 10. The ‘Cats went on to win the game by a score of 105-96, a score that was closer than the game ever really was. For ‘Cats fans, it probably felt like watching a unicorn running up and down the court when Big Z was in the game. He performed at a higher level than anyone could have predicted, rarely making a mistake. It was clear he was nervous in his first short stint in the game, but he quickly got more comfortable as his minutes climbed. He finished the game with a total of 16 minutes while accumulating a team-high plus/minus total of +14. Ivisic was the story, but he was far from the only Wildcat to have a big game on Saturday night. Mitchell led the team in scoring with 23-points, while Reeves continued to be the most consistent force on offense night in and night out with 21-points of his own. Wagner added 18-points and Sheppard scored 12-points as 5 ‘Cats finished in double figures.

Georgia entered Saturday nights game with a 13-4 record on the season with a nice 3-1 start in conference play. The Bulldogs leading contributors on offense include Jabri Abdur-Rahm (12.8 PPG, 4 RPG, 41.5% 3PT), Noah Thomasson (12.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.6 APG), and RJ Melendez (9.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.2 APG).

The spread for Saturday nights matchup versus Georgia was -14.5 (UK). The Over/Under point total was set at 163.5.

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

Game Recap:

First Half

Georgia won the tip and hit a three to open the game scoring. Bradshaw answered on the offensive end for the Wildcats with a baseline jumper. Reeves found Bradshaw for an easy lay-in to make the score 5-4 Georgia. The ‘Cats and Bulldogs traded buckets and the ‘Cats found themselves down 10-8 at the first media timeout after leaving Abdur-Rahim open for a three. Croatian Center Zvonimir Ivisic checked into the game for the ‘Cats following the timeout for his first game action of the season after being cleared by the NCAA prior to the game. Ivisic rejected a Georgia shot on the first defensive possession. Reeves drove the ball down the paint for a slam. Ivisic caught a pass off the floor from Dillingham and Ivisic found Reeves streaking down the court for an and-one opportunity. The ‘Cats led 13-10 after the free-throw. Sheppard peeled off a ball screen and hit a deep three. The ‘Cats stole the ball and the ball movement for the ‘Cats left Ivisic open in the middle of the paint. Ivisic caught the pass and threw a behind the back no look pass to Reeves in the corner for an open three as Rupp Arena exploded. The ‘Cats led 19-10 after the three. Abdur-Rahim hit his third three of the game after the timeout. Mitchell drove the baseline and converted an and-one chance. Onyenso posted up and scored off a post move. The ‘Cats led 23-13 at the under 12-minute media timeout. Wagner drove to the pain and kicked the ball to Edwards who hit a three. After a paint score by Tchewa, the Bulldogs narrowed the deficit to 26-21 ‘Cats. Dillingham answered with a mid-range jumper. Ivisic reentered after Mitchells second foul of the half with 8-minutes to play. The ‘Cats found a wide-open Ivisic for a three that he drained to give Kentucky a 31-22 lead. He then blocked another shot on the defensive end with the play resulting in a jump ball. Wagner drove and finished at the rim for a 33-22 ‘Cats lead. Ivisic then hit a deep two-point jumper for his second basket in a ‘Cats uniform. Ivisic then let another one rip from way beyond the arc and hit it without any hesitation. He then gathered a defensive rebound and settled in the corner where Wagner found him and he hit his third three of the game and converted all four of his shots, all jumpers. The ’Cats led 41-24 after the Big Z scoring run. Ivisic led all scorers with 11-points. Ivisic was +23 in plus/minus in his first 5-minutes of action. Kentucky led 43-26 at the under 4-minute media timeout. After sitting for a few minute stretch, Ivisic returned for Kentucky with 3:52-minutes to play in the half. Wagner drove through contact and finished at the rim. Ivisic stole the inbounds pass with his long stretch then altered a three the next trip down the floor. Sheppard nailed a three and two Bradshaw free-throws closed out the first half scoring for Kentucky. The ‘Cats led 54-35 at the half.

The ’Cats played solid defense in the first half, holding Georgia to just 38% shooting and 27% (3 of 11) from 3PT. The ‘Cats came out of the gate hot, shooting 65% and 58% (7 of 12) from beyond the arc. The ‘Cats committed 8 first half turnovers but countered with 12 assists. They also were active in passing lanes with 7 steals.

Halftime: Kentucky 54 – Georgia 35

Second Half

The second half began with a Kentucky turnover. Bradshaw then got the ball back for the ’Cats off a steal. Mitchell scored the first points of the half off a offensive rebound putback. Wagner scored via a drive to the basket then Mitchell followed with a three. Georgia continued to score at will to start the half as well. Edwards hit a three to make the score 64-41 Kentucky. Wagner scored again with a drive to the paint. Ivisic, Sheppard, and Dillingham were the first off the bench for the ‘Cats in the second half. Wagner drove the ball again and scored at the rim but Georgia responded with an and-one opportunity heading into the under 16-minute media timeout. The ‘Cats led 68-48 and had made their last 6 consecutive shots. Sheppard found Reeves streaking down the court for a easy transition lay-in. Sheppard shot a three off a pick and pop play to push the ‘Cats lead to 75-51. Reeves then hit a deep three on the next Kentucky possession leading into a media timeout. Ivisic was called for a Flagrant 1 following review in the timeout. Abdur-Rahim hit another three off a screen on the next trip for Georgia. Mitchell slashed to the basket and Sheppard found him for an easy layup. Ivisic found an offensive rebound and almost slammed it home off a spin-move. Instead, Georgia hit a three and the ‘Cats got called for a foul for a 4-point Georgia play. Coach Cal also got a technical foul after the call. The ‘Cats led 80-61 after the stretch. Mitchell responded with an and-one of his own. Mitchell converted a consecutive and-one the next trip down the floor to give Kentucky a 86-61 lead. Mitchell spun out of a double-team and found Wagner for a three. Wagner found an open Mitchell for an easy lay-in. Wagner then found Sheppard across the court in transition for a step in three to push the lead to 96-68 Kentucky with 7:43-minutes to play. Georgia rattled off 5 quick points out of the timeout. Dillingham drove and found Oneynso for an easy basket. Abdur-Rahim hit his 7th three to give him 31 points on the game. Georgia then ran the floor and converted an and-one to make the score 98-78 ‘Cats. Ivisic rolled off a pick and Wagner found him for a huge slam. Ivisic was issues a class B technical foul after hanging on the rim. Edwards fouled out of the game with 5-minutes to play. The ‘Cats led 100-84 after two Georgia free-throws. Ivisic blocked a three but then threw the ball away on the fast break. Wagner lined up a three and nailed it to give the ‘Cats a 17-point lead at 103-86. Kentucky led 103-90 with 2:24-minutes to play. The ‘Cats and Bulldogs traded buckets as the ‘Cats defense lightened up late in the second half. The Bulldogs drew within 10 with under 30-seconds to play as they trailed 105-96.

Final: Kentucky 105 – Georgia 96

Game Stats:

Georgia FG %: 50% (29% 3PT – 7 of 24) (77% FT – 27 of 35)

Kentucky FG %: 62% (56% 3PT – 14 of 25) (76% FT – 13 of 17)

Rebounds: 31 – 29 Kentucky 

Assist/Turnover Ratio: 27:14

Turnovers: UK (14), Georgia (12)

Bench Points: 31 – 25 Kentucky

Points off Turnovers: 15 – 11 Kentucky

Fast Break Points: 28 – 8 Georgia

Paint Points: 42 – 42 Tie

Player Stats:

Tre Mitchell – [(23 points) (5 rebounds) (4 assists) (1 block)]

Antonio Reeves – [(21 points (5 rebounds) (4 assists) (1 steal)]

DJ Wagner – [(18 points) (1 rebound) (10 assists) (1 steal)]

Zvonimir Ivisic [(13 points) (5 rebounds) (2 assists) (2 steals) (3 blocks)]

Reed Sheppard – [(12 points) (1 rebound) (5 assists) (2 steals)]

Justin Edwards – [(6 points) (3 rebounds)]

Aaron Bradshaw – [(6 points) (3 rebounds) (1 steal)]

Ugonna Onyenso – [(4 points) (5 rebounds) (1 steal) (2 blocks)]

Rob Dillingham – [(2 points) (1 rebound) (2 assists) (1 steal)]

The ‘Cats (14-3, 4-1 SEC) hit the road to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks (15-3, 3-2 SEC) on January 23 in Columbia, SC. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. EST. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

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