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

Big Blue Preview: Kentucky vs. Gonzaga

by Tim Letcher

Two of college basketball’s most successful programs over the last 15 years meet on Saturday night when No. 17/15 Kentucky hosts Gonzaga at Rupp Arena.

Since the 2010-11 season, Gonzaga has the highest winning percentage in the country. The Zags have won 399 games against just 62 losses (.866 winning percentage). Kentucky is fifth in that category with 368 wins against 116 losses (.760 winning percentage).

Now, the Cats and the Bulldogs get together in the final nonconference game for both teams this season (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, CBS). In 2023-24, Kentucky is 16-6, while Gonzaga is 17-6. The Cats broke a two-game skid by beating Vanderbilt 109-77 on Tuesday night. The Bulldogs have won six of their last seven games overall.

Kentucky’s players are aware of how good Gonzaga is once again this season.

“They run a lot of sets, a lot of real good sets,” said UK freshman Aaron Bradshaw. “We just have to stick to our game plan and do what we’ve got to do because they are a really good team.”

Bradshaw believes that the Cats’ preparation for the Zags is going well.

“We feel good. Day by day, you’ve got to stack days,” Bradshaw said. “I feel like we’re preparing really good. We’re doing everything that we’ve got to do.”

Kentucky has had little trouble scoring this season. The Cats lead the nation in scoring, averaging 89.7 points per game. UK has scored at least 90 points in 15 games this season and have scored at least 100 four times.

Gonzaga is also a high-scoring team. The Bulldogs average 84.7 points per contest, good for 12th in the country.

When UK has struggled this season, it has been on defense. That has been a point of emphasis for the Cats in practice, especially recently. Communication is key on defense, according to freshman Jordan Burks.

“If all of us can talk, it just makes the job easier,” Burks said. “That’s how you stay connected, you have to talk if you want to be a high-level team.”

Burks believes that if the Cats can improve defensively, they will be very hard to beat.

“If I can stop you, then we can go do whatever we want to on the offensive end,” Burks said. “We’re the number one offensive team in the country. If all 16 (players) can play defense, who can beat us?”

If that happens, Bradshaw thinks this team can be one that UK fans will remember for years to come. How good can the Cats be?

“Really good. Like really, really good,” Bradshaw said. “Like one of Coach Cal’s old teams. We can be really good.”

Kentucky’s next chance to be that great team comes on Saturday night against a very talented Gonzaga squad.

Last Time Out: Vanderbilt Recap

After dropping a pair of tough games at home last week, No. 17/15 Kentucky needed to get back into the win column on Tuesday. The Cats not only did that, they did it in style.

The Cats made 10 of their first 12 three-point shots, building a big lead early and beating Vanderbilt 109-77 inside Memorial Gymnasium.

UK would make 15 of 26 from behind the arc in the game and the Cats made all 12 of their free throws.

Antonio Reeves was hot from the tip, hitting 9 of 16 from the field, including 6 of 9 from behind the arc, on his way to 24 points. For Reeves, it was his 12th 20-point scoring game of the season and his sixth such game in Southeastern Conference play.

Rob Dillingham followed up his 35-point performance on Saturday against Tennessee with 20 points on Tuesday. Justin Edwards scored a career-high 17 points, while Jordan Burks added a career high 13 points. Aaron Bradshaw had 12 points and seven rebounds for the Cats and Zvonimir Ivisic added 11 points and seven rebounds.

Kentucky (16-6, 6-4 SEC) scored the first five points of the game on a Reeves jumper and a three from Justin Edwards. The Commodores would eventually get within one, 9-8, but the Cats scored eight in a row, including a pair of threes from Dillingham, to lead 17-8.

After a Vanderbilt basket, Dillingham hit another three to give UK a 20-10 lead. Vandy would cut into the lead by Ivisic scored five straight for the Cats, who led 25-15 with 11:59 to play in the first half.

Vanderbilt (6-16, 1-8) would get a pair of free throws before the Cats got another three from Reeves and a Dillingham layup to take a 30-17 lead.

The Commodores would cut the UK lead to 30-20 before the Cats went on a 12-2 run, sparked by a pair of Reeves threes, to take a 42-22 lead. The Cats would lead 54-38 at the break, led by Reeves’ 16 points.

The onslaught would continue in the second half, with the Cats leading my as many as 33 in the second half before settling for the 32-point victory.

Cats Yet to be at Full Strength

With only nine regular-season games remaining, the 2023-24 season, the Wildcats have yet to be at full strength. Between offseason injuries to Aaron Bradshaw and Ugonna Onyenso, eight games missed by Adou Thiero and Zvonimir Ivišić not being available until Jan. 20, this team has yet to have every piece available.

Aaron Bradshaw: Missed the team’s first seven games recovering from offseason foot surgery. He returned to action Dec. 2 vs. UNC Wilmington

Rob Dillingham: Missed the game at Arkansas with an illness

Justin Edwards: Missed the home game vs. Florida with a leg injury

Zvonimir Ivišić: Missed the team’s first 16 games of the season and was cleared to play for the Georgia game on Jan. 20

Tre Mitchell: Did not play at Vanderbilt with a back injury

Ugonna Onyenso: Missed the team’s first nine games recovering from offseason foot surgery. He returned to action Dec. 16 vs. North Carolina

Adou Thiero: Has missed eight total games this season, including seven in row beginning with the Dec. 29 game vs. Illinois State

D.J. Wagner: UK’s everyday starter at point guard, missed UK’s games against UNC Wilmington and back-to-back home games against Florida and Tennessee, as well as the road game at Vanderbilt with a seperate ankle injuries. Wagner has been out of the lineup in losses to UNC Wilmington, Florida and Tennessee

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