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Nashville, TN – The Wildcats had entered SEC tournament play on a roll, winning eight of their last ten games, yet there were still some answers that needed to be had.

Would Reed Sheppard continue to outdo expectations?  The latest highlight for the London, Kentucky native was that one of the NBA websites was projecting he would be the number one overall pick in the 2024 NBA draft.  Sheppard had calmly put together an incredible regular season.  While he didn’t come in with all the hoopla that fellow freshmen DJ Wagner, Aaron Bradshaw, Justin Edwards or even Rob Dillingham, he had time and again went above and beyond what any knowledgeable basketball fan could have expected.  Sheppard had already been named SEC freshman of the Year and ESPN National Freshman of the Year.  Plus, Sheppard was also voted as National Sixth Man of the Year by College Hoops Today.

Sheppard had been amazing this season, coming into this tournament he was the only player in the country with the combination of having at least 75 steals, 140 assists and 70 3-pointers.  His game against Mississippi State a few weeks ago when he had 32 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks was the only game this season in the whole nation with a player having amassed such numbers and there are only 11 such games in NCAA division one dating back 1997 were that had happened to put it into perspective.

On the year Sheppard is averaging 12.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and a league leading 2.5 steals per game.  And not to be out done on any part of the game the jack of all trades player also records almost 1 block per game.

While Sheppard did not buckle under pressure going for 14 points while dishing out 4 assists and gathering 3 rebounds it was the team defense or lack of that which came back to get the Wildcats in their SEC tournament opener.  The Cats gave up 97 points and allowed Texas AM guards the opportunity to get to the basket time and again.  Antonio Reeves foul trouble limited his minutes in both the first and second halves, which was another contributing factor to the loss.  Kentucky failed to win a game in SEC tournament play for the second year in a row falling 97-87 to Texas AM.  This makes the third straight year in which Buzz Williams Texas AM Aggies have gone on a run in the SEC tournament.

After a tumulus day of SEC tournament basketball in the Friday day session, which saw number 1 seed Tennessee fall 73-56 to Mississippi State and Auburn destroy the 5th seeded South Carolina Gamecocks 86-55.  The Wildcats continued the strange day as they fell to Texas AM in the first game of the night session. 

In typical fashion the Big Blue Nation had turned Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena into Rupp Arena South, but the decided fan advantage was not an advantage on the court.  It was Texas AM Aggies that were left celebrating at the final buzzer.

The Wildcats would strike first with a free throw by Antonio Reeves for a 1-0 lead, but the second free throw would be a miss and that was a sign of things to come as the usual 90 percent free throw shooter came up short.

Texas AM would go on an 8-0 run to go up 8-1.  At the first time out the Aggies who were on fire from the 3-point line going 4 for 4 still held a 14-8 lead.

The Wildcats went on an 8-1 run to take a 16-15 lead, but Texas AM was unfazed and retook the lead 20-16 at the 12-minute mark of the game.

Reed Sheppard knocked down a couple of threes to help Kentucky, but the Aggies were still hanging onto a 33-27 lead when a TV timeout was called at 7:02.

Reeves picked up a second foul and was forced to the bench which helped AM build a nine-point lead 45-36 when play was stopped at 2:59 for time out.

The Cats sloppy play and inexperience haunted them in the first half as the more experienced Aggies were more physical and made it to the foul line eleven times while the Wildcats only got six attempts.  This helped AM in taking a 48-42 advantage into the locker room at halftime.

Reeves could not get a break in this game, after hitting a 3-pointer early in the second half he was whistled for a third foul and had to go to the bench.  His absence was a big reason the Wildcats were still trailing 56-51 during the first TV timeout of the second half.

Cats were still fighting, but every time they made a little run the Aggies would counter with a run of their own.  When a timeout was called with 11:29 to go in the game the Wildcats were trailing 67-59.

Kentucky went down by as many as 16 points, but after Rob Dillingham heated up, they had cut the lead down to 86-78 with 3:37 left in the game.  The Cats continued to put pressure on the Aggies, but couldn’t get over the hump as they missed several open shots.

At the end the Wildcats had to foul going down the stretch and the Aggies made 22 of their 30 free throws to take home the victory.

Despite the loss Kentucky did have a few players that made contributions.  Rob Dillingham had a team high 27 points and 7 assists, while Sheppard’s 14 points and Reeves 13 points gave the Wildcats three players in double-digit scoring.  Also, while it is evident that Tre Mitchell is still far from where he was before his injuries he still had a team high 9 rebounds.

It was another disappointing tournament loss for Coach John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats.   So now the Cats will go home to lick their wounds and rest as they wait to see where they will be seated in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

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