Big Blue Preview: Kentucky vs. Missouri
On Saturday in Gainesville, the young Kentucky Wildcats showed maturity beyond their years by rallying past Florida 87-85. Winning on the road in the Southeastern Conference is never easy, and Saturday’s game certainly was a challenge. But it’s also something the young Cats can build on, according to assistant coach John Welch.
“I think it’s very big, very important,” Welch said. “Just helps with the belief in themselves because we are a younger team. It just lets them know they can do it.”
Kentucky, now ranked sixth in the Associated Press College Basketball Poll, returns to Rupp Arena on Tuesday night to face Missouri. Welsh knows that the Tigers will provide the Cats with a challenge due to style of play.
“It will be an interesting game,” Welch said. “They play very fast. Defensively, they trap and rotate. It will be a good test for our guys to play against that type of defense.”
Kentucky enters Tuesday’s game with five players averaging double figures in scoring. Welch believes that having such balanced scoring makes the Cats difficult to defend.
“Our depth is definitely one of our strengths,” Welch said. “The quote that’s been thrown around, I think Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) said it to Cal early in the season, is that every one of your guys can pass, dribble and shoot. We believe that and the players believe that. Just make the right play. Whoever you’re passing to has the skillset to complete the play. So it’s very easy to try to convince them to share the ball because of the players they are playing with.”
Tipoff for Tuesday’s game is set for 7 p.m. and the contest can be seen on ESPN.
Last Time Out: Florida Recap
For the first 30 minutes of Saturday’s game at Florida, Kentucky freshman Aaron Bradshaw had his share of struggles. But over the last 10 minutes, the Rahway, New Jersey native made big plays to help his sixth-ranked Cats beat the Gators 87-85 at the Exatech Center in Gainesville.
Bradshaw missed his first four shots in the game, but made his last three shots, including a huge three late in the game, on his way to 10 points. He added seven rebounds, two steals and a huge blocked shot as UK rallied to win in the second half.
Kentucky (11-2, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) got 19 points from Antonio Reeves and 14 apiece from Reed Sheppard and D.J. Wagner. Tre Mitchell had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Things started well for Kentucky as the Cats took a 6-2 advantage less than three minutes into the game. But the Gators got things going, putting together a 14-4 run to take a 16-10 lead.
Kentucky would fight back, behind five points from Reeves and four from Sheppard, to get within one, 22-21. The Cats would tie the game at 27-27 on a basket and free throw by Ugonna Onyenso.
Florida would respond with a 12-2 run to lead by double digits, 39-29, with 3:55 left in the first half. The Cats would again fight back, this time behind Mitchell and Reeves, to get within six, 43-37. But the Gators got the last basket of the half and took a 45-37 advantage into the break. UK made just one of 10 from behind the arc in the first half and committed seven turnovers with just two assists.
The second half started much like the first, with UK going on a 7-2 run, including five points from Reeves, to cut the deficit to 47-44. The run would continue and would eventually give the Cats a lead, 51-49, on a Wagner three.
That lead would last just 17 seconds as Florida responded by scoring the next nine points, grabbing a 58-51 lead in the process. Wagner stopped the run with a layup and free throw to get UK back within four. And when Sheppard hit a three, the Cats were within one, 58-57.
Florida had the answer again, stretching the lead to 65-59 with 9:42 to play. But Kentucky would not go away. The Cats kept chipping away at the Gators’ lead and eventually tied the game at 72 apiece on a Reeves basket and free throw.
The game would be tied at 74 and 76 before Bradshaw blocked an Alex Condon shot on the defensive end, then drilled a three from the top of the key to give Kentucky a 79-76 lead with 1:27 remaining.
Kentucky would get a defensive stop, then Onyenso hit one of two at the line, giving UK an 80-76 lead with 1:04 to play. UK would go up 81-76 before Florida got a three-point play to get within two, 81-79, with 30 seconds remaining.
Sheppard calmly made a pair of free throws with 19 seconds left to extend the UK lead to 83-79. Florida got two Zyon Pullin free throws with 15 seconds left.
After Sheppard made two free throws with eight seconds left, Florida got a driving layup to get within two with three seconds remaining. Sheppard would seal the deal with two more free throws, this time with two seconds remaining. Florida got a pair of free throws from Condon with one second left to provide the final margin.
Home Sweet Home …
With Kentucky’s win at Florida on Saturday, the Wildcats wrapped up a stretch in which they played just five games over a 28-day span beginning on Dec. 2 and ending on Jan. 6 at Florida. During that stretch, UK played just one time at home — a 96-70 victory over Illinois State on Dec. 29.
Kentucky will now play twice a week for the remainder of the season, including during its league-delegated bye with a home game against Gonzaga on Feb. 10.