Kentucky is doing what is needed for its NCAA tournament hopes

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Game day: Kentucky 75, Ole Miss 66

Click below for more from the Herald-Leader’s and’s coverage of the Tuesday night men’s basketball game between Kentucky and Mississippi in Oxford, Miss.

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The main goal for the Kentucky Wildcats coming up this week should have been to emerge on the other side with two victories. No style points necessary.

In this sense, the cats are halfway home. With few style points accumulated.

Kentucky Mississippi’s short-handed team was defeated 75-66 on the road Tuesday night for its fifth straight victory in Southeastern Conference play and back in the win column after Loss of a home in Kansas during the Weekend.

John Calipari summed things up correctly.

“We did what we had to do to win the game,” the UK coach said in a post-match radio interview.

There weren’t many bright spots in Kentucky’s basketball win. However, Calipari was hunting for silverware after that as he continued to attempt this team’s will – now 15-7, 6-3 in the Southeastern Conference – for bigger things as the regular season approached its home turf.

Calipari didn’t have to look very far to find a positive one. It can happen Antonio Reeves, who hit big shot after big shot – finished the season with 27 points despite making dozens of attempts from the floor. He was 8-for-12 on field goals, 6-for-7 from three-point range and 5-for-5 at the free throw line.

With Kentucky an early hole 15-8, Reeves came off the bench to hit two big three-pointers amid a 10-0 Wildcats lead. With UK coming out of the locker room at the end of the first half tied at 32 – all with the Humble Rebels, he scored eight points in the first five minutes of the second half, hitting his first four shots from the break to put a small distance between the Cats and Ole Miss.

“Man, he was burning,” said fellow traveler Wheeler. “That’s the Antonio we saw in the highlights. That’s the Antonio we saw in the summer. He’s definitely had some spurts where he’s done it this year, but tonight was really big – on the road. … He made some big shots, some big shots.” At the right time. He was aggressive. And he just kept going.”

Kentucky’s Antonio Reeves (12) celebrates after scoring against Mississippi during Tuesday’s game at Oxford, Miss Silas Walker

Wheeler also deserves a mention.

This was announced a few minutes before the starting point was hinted at Casson Wallace will be out for the match due to a knee injury she picked up earlier in the week. (It’s listed as “day in and day out” and will be back in action soon.)

With Wallace out, Wheeler stepped in. The senior guard was Kentucky’s starter at this point until he was sidelined with a shoulder injury at the Cats’ fifth-place game in Tennessee earlier this month. The United Kingdom ended up winning with that victory, a victory that sparked a four-game winning streak and revived hopes of a possible special season for the Wildcats.

Even when Wheeler—the SEC’s leader in assists going through three seasons—returned, Calipari stuck with what worked. Wallace was running the show, and Wheeler was relegated to backup duty. Through it all, the Kentucky coach paid tribute to the veteran playmaker Putting the team first.

On Tuesday night, Wheeler had nine assists and only one turnover.

Afterward, Calipari called his team the “next man mentality” and singled out the other players. Chris Livingston grab seven rebounds. Ado Thiero to run the point when Wheeler left at the end of the first half with an ankle injury. Daimion Collins for coming in and providing a spark — four points in two minutes, with one huge dunk — in the first half.

Nearly three months into a season riddled with negativity — and now halfway through an SEC schedule that continues to raise questions about this team — Calipari tried to highlight the positives on Tuesday night.

But perhaps there was not much that happened at Oxford to change anyone’s mind about this line-up.

Calipari said that Oscar Chebuy’s play is in it Pickup defense positions He was “much better,” but he and his teammates still took a beating several times when Ole Miss went to the ball screen appearance.

Antonio Reeves of Kentucky (12) dribbles the ball against Mississippi during Tuesday’s game at Oxford, Miss Silas Walker

Reeves was great from a three point set. Everyone else combined to get 0 vs. 5 depths. At this point, noted sharpshooter CJ Fredrick continued his slump, scoreless in 20 minutes and 0-for-2 from the ground. Frederick is now 5-for-26 from three-point range over the last five games and 10-for-39 (25.6 percent) from depth since returning from a hand injury.

Any road win in the SEC is worth celebrating, but the crowd wasn’t much Tuesday night, and neither was the competition. The SJB stand was less than half capacity due to a looming ice storm that kept fans away. The Rebels and the Cheerleaders didn’t even exist.

Ole Miss They were also missing two of their top scorers – Matthew Morell and Daishon Ruffin – and fell to 1-8 in the league with the loss but managed to keep things close with the Cats for most of the night. The Rebels’ lone SEC win came against South Carolina, the lowest-ranked team in the conference. The Gamecocks’ only SEC win came in Rupp’s arena last month, a defeat that will continue to haunt UK until this Sunday.

Another bad statistic for the Cats: That 1-6 record in quadruple 1 games, an important sorting tool for the NCAA tournament selection committee. They couldn’t do anything to improve that record against Ole Miss on Tuesday, and the same goes for Home game against Florida Saturday evening. Both will go down as Quadruple Games 2.

Basically, the cats just needed to get through those two things unscathed. The most important websites They were pretty much in agreement going into Kentucky this week – the consensus is that this UK team is barely on the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble. One misstep can put cats outside looking in.

They avoided it at Oxford.

If they can get past Florida on Saturday night, four of their next five games will be against Quad 1 opponents. And picking up a few wins in those encounters would go a long way toward boosting their March Madness resume.

“It’s early,” Calipari said. “What we’re trying to do is, ‘Okay, one game. who is next? Let’s win the next match. That’s all that worries me. …don’t even know the next game. I stay focused where I am.”

Next game

Florida in Kentucky

when: 8:30 p.m. on Saturday

television: ESPN

radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1.0 Update

Records: Florida 12-9 (5-3 SEC), Kentucky 15-7 (6-3)

a series: Kentucky leads 107-41

last meeting: Kentucky won 71-63 on March 5, 2022 in Gainesville, Florida.

This story was originally published Feb 1, 2023 12:54 AM.

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Ben Roberts is the University of Kentucky men’s basketball hit writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader. He previously specialized in covering UK basketball recruiting and created and maintains the Next Cats blog. He is a native of Franklin County and first joined the Herald-Leader in 2006.
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