Men's Basketball
Big Blue Preview: Kentucky vs. Florida

Big Blue Preview: Kentucky vs. Florida

by Tim Letcher

In Saturday’s game at Arkansas, the Cats’ offense had its share of struggles, especially in the first half. But the Cats were able to rally in the second 20 minutes, at least partially because of freshman Reed Sheppard.

The London, Kentucky, native scored 14 points, all in the second half, dished out five assists, had four steals, four rebounds and blocked a shot as the Cats rallied to beat the Hogs on Saturday. Sheppard spent much of the second half playing point guard, an adjustment that was made in-game according to UK assistant coach Chuck Martin.

“I think we had a flow going. Coach Cal’s really good at that,” Martin said. “He’s got a feel for the game. He saw a few things that were going really well for us. Reed was able to get to the rim a number of times at critical moments in the second half. Once you see that once or twice, you just feel like, you know what, let’s stick with Reed and see what happens. He made some great plays down the stretch.”

Martin knows that Sheppard, who has scored in double figures in 13 games this season, has a number of special qualities that make him effective, especially in crucial situations.

“Reed’s got a mental toughness to him and a grit to him that most people are just unaware of because they’re not around him every day,” Martin said. “He’s got that silent killer to him and resiliency to him. And you knew it was just a matter of time that he would bounce back in the second half – which he did and made some unbelievable plays to help us win the game.”

Sheppard and the Cats return to action on Wednesday, facing Florida at Rupp Arena (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). Kentucky beat the Gators 87-85 on Jan. 6 in Gainesville. Sheppard scored 14 points in that game and hit 9 of 11 from the line, including some key free throws down the stretch, to help the Cats get out of town with a win.

Florida is 14-6 overall and 4-3 in Southeastern Conference play. The Gators have won three consecutive games, including a 102-98 overtime victory over Georgia on Saturday in Gainesville.

If the Cats are to beat the Gators for a second time this season, Sheppard will almost certainly play a key role in the potential victory.

Last Time Out: Arkansas Recap

Antonio Reeves really enjoys playing in Arkansas’ Bud Walton Arena. Reeves proved that fact again on Saturday night by scoring 24 points as No. 6 Kentucky topped Arkansas 63-57.

Last season, Reeves scored 37 points in the same building as the Cats beat the Hogs. On Saturday, Reeves overcame early struggles (he made just one of his first five shots) to make nine of 20 from the floor, including 4 of 8 from behind the arc, on his way to those 24 points. It was the 10th time this season that Reeves has scored at least 20 points in a game.

Kentucky (15-4, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) got 14 points, all in the second half, from freshman Reed Sheppard. The freshman from London, Kentucky, added five assists, four rebounds, four steals and a blocked shot. Tre Mitchell had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

The Cats were able to score 12 points off of 13 Arkansas turnovers, which was one of the big differences in the game. The Hogs scored just five points off of UK’s nine turnovers.

Kentucky missed its first five shots of the game, but Arkansas only led 3-0 early. The Cats got on the board with a Mitchell three, tying the game. Arkansas would score the next six points before UK got a free throw from Reeves to make it 9-4 with 13:09 to play in the first half.

The Cats would make only one of their first 17 shots and the Hogs took a 14-4 lead before Reeves got a shot to go, cutting the deficit to 14-6.

Kentucky would go 3-21 from the floor before getting consecutive baskets from Reeves and D.J. Wagner to cut the deficit to 18-12 with 6:27 left in the half.

The Cats would trail 20-12 before going on an 8-1 run to get within one, 21-20. After an Arkansas basket, UK got within one again on an Ugonna Onyenso tip-in. However, Arkansas would lead 26-24 at the half. The 24 points marked the fewest points in a half for Kentucky so far this season.

Arkansas scored the first two points of the second half before Reeves got a basket and free throw to cut the deficit to one, 28-27. Kentucky would tie the game at 28-28 on an Adou Thiero free throw with 17:29 remaining. Arkansas would get a three from Khalif Battle but the Cats answered with a three from Sheppard to tie the game at 31-31.

The Razorbacks would answer with six consecutive points to lead 37-31. UK then got a three from Reeves and a layup from Sheppard to cut it to one, 37-36. Then, Sheppard stole a pass and raced down the floor for a two-hand slam to give Kentucky its first lead of the game, 38-37, with 12:54 to play.

The lead lasted just 15 seconds as Arkansas scored on its next possession to lead 39-38. The lead would change hands on the next three possessions, capped by a Sheppard layup that gave the Cats a 42-41 lead. UK would extend the lead to 44-41 on a Reeves steal and dunk with 8:32 to play.

Arkansas cut the UK lead to 44-43 before Mitchell drilled a three from the top of the key to give the Cats a 47-43 advantage with 7:24 to play. Arkansas got within one on a Battle three but Reeves drilled a three from the left wing to give the Cats a 50-46 advantage with 5:22 remaining.

After a pair of Arkansas free throws, Mitchell hit a left corner three to give UK a 53-48 lead. Arkansas would score the next four to get within a point before Reeves made another three, extending the lead to 56-52 with 2:40 to go. Kentucky extended the lead to 58-52 when Onyenso stole the ball, got it to Sheppard who threw it downcourt to Wagner for a layup. And when Sheppard hit a three one possession later, the Cats led by nine, 61-52, with 1:27 to play. From there, the Cats held on for the victory.

Antonio Th-REEVES: All-America Candidate

Senior Antonio Reeves is firmly cemented in the race to become an All-American. He is among the final 10 candidates for the Jerry West Award, honoring the nation’s best shooting guard.

He is UK’s leading scorer at 19.5 points per game. Reeves is tallying marks of 50.2% from the field, 43.1% from 3-point range and 87.3% from the charity stripe — all career bests.

He tallied 30 points in a win at Louisville and followed that performance with 27 against Illinois State. He was just the fourth UK player to ever score 30 or more in the series vs. Louisville. With the 30-point effort at Louisville, Reeves joined Oscar Tshiebwe (4), Malik Monk (4) and Jamal Murray (3) as the only players in the UK-Calipari era to have multiple games with 30 or more points.

Reeves has topped double-figure scoring in all but one game this season and eclipsed the 20-point plateau in 10 games. He is just the second UK player under John Calipari to have 20 career 20-or-more scoring efforts in his career, joining 2022 National Player of the Year, Tshiebwe, in that category. Seven of his 20 career 20-plus point scoring efforts have come on the road.

Against Georgia, he eclipsed 2,000 career points combining his time at Illinois State and at Kentucky. As a Wildcat, he’s just 142 points shy of reaching the 1,000-point plateau.

He’s also moving up the charts in UK’s record books from long range:

Kentucky Career Leaders in 3-Point Field Goals
1. Tony Delk (283 in 133 games, 2.13 per game)
2. Keith Bogans (254 in 135 games, 1.88 per game)

18. Doron Lamb (144 in 78 games, 1.85 per game)
19. Rex Chapman (134 in 61 games, 2.20 per game)
20. Antonio Reeves (130 in 53 games, 2.45 per game)

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