Men's Basketball
Big Blue Preview: Kentucky vs. UNC-Wilmington

Big Blue Preview: Kentucky vs. UNC-Wilmington

After beating No. 8 Miami on Tuesday night, 12th-ranked Kentucky returns to action on Saturday, hosting UNC-Wilmington at Rupp Arena (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network).

Reed Sheppard was one of the biggest stories of Tuesday’s game. The Kentucky native came off the bench to score 21 points. In addition to leading the team in scoring, Sheppard grabbed five rebounds, had four assists, three steals and a blocked shot.

Sheppard’s backcourt running mate, Rob Dillingham, battled through foul trouble on Tuesday, but still managed to score 12 points and hand out a career-high nine assists.

The Cats now turn their attention to UNC-Wilmington. Dillingham, a North Carolina native, knows some of the Seahawks’ players and he knows that UK cannot overlook UNCW.

“UNC-Wilmington has a bunch of guys that’s from North Carolina so I grew up playing with a bunch of those guys,” Dillingham said. “They move the ball a lot. They’ve got a bunch of players that can score the ball. They’re a good team. We’re not going to take them for granted at all.”

While Kentucky is off to a 6-1 start, there are still a number of areas where the Cats can get even better. Dillingham pointed out a couple of those.

“Definitely just discipline and defense and knowing our assignments and sticking to the game plan,” he said. “Sometimes when we get tired, we don’t stick to the game plan.”

Asked whether he was surprised at how well the team has played so far this year, Dillingham had another word in mind.

“I feel like we’re more proud,” Dillingham said. “It’s not a surprise because we practice for this. We’re just happy and thankful. It’s going good so far.”

Kentucky hopes to continue that early season trend on Saturday against UNC-Wilmington.

Last Time Out: Miami Recap

Kentucky freshman Reed Sheppard has his first opportunity to play on a really big stage at Rupp Arena on Tuesday night as the Cats hosted eighth-ranked Miami. And Sheppard made the most of his chance to make a big impression.

Sheppard made eight of 13 from the field, including five of nine from behind the arc, on his way to 21 points as the Cats topped the ‘Canes 95-73. Sheppard added five rebounds, four assists and three steals for the Cats.

UK head coach John Calipari gives Sheppard a lot of credit for his hard work that has helped him continue to improve.

“He was never a knock-down shooter,” Calipari said. “You know what he’s done, he lives in that gym. He works and he’s made himself, kind of like Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) and some of these other kids that I’ve had, they build their own confidence.”

Calipari also knows that Sheppard’s heredity is playing a role in how good he has been early this season. But it may not be whatmost UK fans are thinking.

“But I always saw his ability to have a feel for passing. His hands, and I’m not joking when I say this, that’s (Sheppard’s mother) Stacey’s,” Calipari said. “That’s who that is. Jeff (Sheppard, Reed’s father) wasn’t that way. Stacey was that way. And you just seem him get his hands on balls.”

Sheppard was not alone as the Cats handled the ‘Canes. Antonio Reeves had 18 points, while Tre Mitchell added 14 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Rob Dillingham had 12 points and a career-high nine assists, while Justin Edwards had 11 points.

Kentucky closed the half on an 8-0 run to turn a three-point deficit into a 42-37 halftime advantage. And Sheppard was right in the middle of making it happen. After the Cats took a 38-37 lead on an Edwards dunk, Sheppard blocked a shot by Miami’s Nijel Pack, got the rebound and hit a sprinting Reeves for a layup, extending the lead to three.

After Miami failed to score on its final possession of the half, the Cats ran the clock down and Sheppard assisted on a Tre Mitchell basket in the lane, giving UK a five-point lead at the break.

For those into the plus/minus statistic, Sheppard was an amazing plus-18 in the first half.

The UK streak continued early in the second half, and Sheppard was again in the middle of the action. He assisted on a Reeves layup to extend the lead to seven. Then, with the Cats leading by 10, Sheppard broke ahead of the pack and made a fast break layup, giving UK a 51-39 lead and forcing a Miami timeout. Sheppard put the finishing touches on a 13-2 UK run with a three from the right wing, extending the Kentucky lead to 57-41.

Kentucky would extend the lead to as many as 29 points, 91-62, before settling for the 22-point victory

Forever Young

Similar to early teams under John Calipari’s direction, the 2023-24 Kentucky Wildcats are one of the nation’s youngest teams. With an average age of 20.0 years, the Cats rank as the seventh youngest team in the country. Only Arizona, at 19.77 years is younger from a Power Five standpoint.

This UK team is powered by the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class. Calipari has had success before with teams led by the nation’s best first-year players. Results of other No. 1 ranked classes under Calipari and corresponding seasons:

• 2010 – 35-3 (SEC Champion, SECT Champion, Elite Eight)
• 2011 – 29-9 (SECT Champion, Final Four)
• 2012 – 38-2 (SEC Champion, National Champion)
• 2013 – 21-12
• 2014 – 29-11 (Final Four)
• 2016 – 27-9 (SEC Champion, SECT Champion, Sweet 16)
• 2017 – 32-6 (SEC Champion, SECT Champion, Elite Eight)

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