Big Blue Preview: Kentucky vs. Miami
Two weeks ago, Kentucky lost to top-ranked Kansas in a tight game in the Champions Classic. Now, the Cats take on their second Top 10 foe of the season when eighth-ranked Miami visits Rupp Arena on Tuesday night in the SEC/ACC Challenge.
Kentucky, now ranked 12th by the Associated Press, is looking forward to the challenge according to assistant coach Chuck Martin.
“It’s a great game to be a part of. I think this is one of the reasons you come to Kentucky, to play in these early nonconference games,” Martin said. “It certainly will challenge us but I think we’ve had two or three good days of practice, our spirit is in a good place. We’re excited to toss it up tomorrow night and see what happens.”
The Hurricanes, under head coach Jim Larranaga, went to the Final Four last year and return a number of players from last year’s team. Martin knows that the ‘Canes will be a formidable opponent.
“They’re a dangerous team,” Martin said. “They’re averaging 89 points per night and 46 percent from the three-point line. They’ve got four guards on the floor at any time.”
As for the Cats, they continue to push the pace and to shoot the three-point shot. Miami does very similar things, according to Martin.
“There are some similarities,” Martin said. “We’ve got six guys in double digits. We shoot a pretty high percentage from the three-point line.”
The Cats still have plenty of things on which to improve, but Martin knows that there needs to be a primary focus right now.
“We’ve got to continue to become a better rebounding team, especially when we’re playing against teams that shoot the three like we will tomorrow night against Miami,” Martin said. “Long shots, long rebounds. We’ve been working on that quite a bit.”
The Cats get another shot at a Top 10 opponent on Tuesday night. Kentucky continues to improve and this game could be a measuring stick for just how much better UK has gotten in the last two weeks.
Last Time Out: Marshall Recap
Putting points on the board has not been a problem for Kentucky so far this season. But on Friday night against Marshall, the Cats took their scoring prowess to another level.
Kentucky put up 69 points in the first half, the most points ever scored by any team in a half at Rupp Arena history. The 69 points is also the fourth-highest first half total in Kentucky’s basketball history. It was all part of a 118-82 Kentucky win. The 118 points mark the most ever scored by a John Calipari-coached Kentucky team.
D.J. Wagner had 28 points to lead Kentucky in scoring. Antonio Reeves had 23 points for the Cats and Tre Mitchell had 18. Rob Dillingham hit seven of his eight shots on his way to 16 points, while Reed Sheppard had 12 and Justin Edwards added 10. Four of those players (Reeves 15; Mitchell 14; Wagner 13; and Edwards 10) had double figures in points by halftime.
Calipari was impressed with his team’s offense on Friday night.
“We played good. It was based on assists, shots made,” Calipari said. “We’re creating great opportunities for guys who can shoot. If you have a bunch of guys who can shoot like this, you play this way.”
One of the main sparks for the Kentucky offense this season has been a pair of reserve freshman guards. Dillingham and Sheppard may not start for the Cats but they are making things happen.
On Friday night, Dillingham assisted on five of Kentucky’s first 11 field goals and also made his first seven shots in the game on his way to 16 points. Dillingham dished out a career-high eight assists in the game
Sheppard continues to do a little bit of everything for Kentucky. On Friday, the London, Kentucky, native scored 12 points, grabbed seven rebounds, dished out six assists and had two steals.
Kentucky has now scored at least 81 points in each of its first six games. The last time the Cats did that was in the 1970-71 season.
For all that the 2023-24 class is providing this team, three veterans in Antonio Reeves, Tre Mitchell and Adou Thiero are the glue guys.
• Mitchell leads the team in rebounding (37), minutes played (34:21 per game) and turnovers (3). He is averaging 15.0 points per game and 6.2 rebounds, while also dishing 21 assists. Mitchell was clutch for the Cats against Saint Joseph’s with a dunk that tied the game to force overtime and then opened the extra period with back-to-back threes. He scored a season-high 22 points in the win
• Reeves paces the team at 19.0 points per game and 21 made 3-pointers thus far. He’s connected on at least one from long range in 17 straight dating back to last season. He’s scored 20 or more points in four of the six games
• Thiero is averaging 8.0 points and a team-high 7.4 rebounds per game in five starts. He registered his first-career double-double with 16 points and 13 boards against No. 1 Kansas. He’s connecting on 48.3% from the floor