Men's Basketball
Big Blue Preview: Kentucky at LSU

Big Blue Preview: Kentucky at LSU

by Tim Letcher

Last week, in wins over Ole Miss and at No. 13 Auburn, Kentucky showed marked improvement on the defensive end of the floor. The Cats held the Rebels to 63 points and held the high-scoring Tigers to just 59 on Saturday.

Defense has obviously been an emphasis for the Cats lately. That, along with another minor adjustment, has led to the improved defensive performances, according to assistant coach John Welch.

“I think both. I think we’ve been hammering on the defense for months now,” Welch said. “Right from the beginning, we thought our offense was ahead of our defense, so defense has been an emphasis for a couple of months and it’s starting to show. Then, we picked our pressure up some, our pickup point is higher. Also, getting D.J. (Wagner) back. We felt that set the tone. How hard he plays, how well he guards the ball is a big difference.”

Welch has seen the team learn and pick up concepts better recently.

“I think the players are learning,” Welch said. “We’re working on it constantly. I think the hard work is starting to show. D.J.’s pressure on the ball makes a difference and the harder he plays makes other guys want to play harder, too.”

Welch also believes that defense has become a point of pride for the team.

“I think they’re developing a pride in their defense,” he said. “I think they took it personal, what was being said about them.”

No. 17 Kentucky (18-7, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) will face another challenge on Wednesday, visiting LSU (13-12, 5-7) at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge. Welch has seen LSU on film and knows how they can challenge the Cats.

“It’s going to be a tough game,” Welch said. “Hopefully, we can play well. LSU is a very good team, they’re a very good offensive team. They have great spacing, they move the ball. It’s going to be another great challenge for our defense.”

Kentucky will also faced another loud, hostile crowd on Wednesday, although that has not seemed to bother the Cats much this season.

“I don’t think they’re fazed by the crowds. If anything, I think it energizes them,” Welch said. “Before the game at Auburn was probably the loudest I’ve seen our team. Coming back to the locker room, you can see they enjoyed the crowd and fed off their energy.”

Tipoff from Baton Rouge is set for 9 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on ESPN.

Last Time Out: Auburn Recap

Kentucky has heard it all season long. The Cats have heard how their defense and toughness are not up to the level of what is expected.

On Saturday night, UK faced a tough task. The Cats faced a red-hot Auburn team that was 13-0 at home, ranked 13th in the country and that had won 43 of its last 45 games at home.

No. 22 Kentucky (18-7, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) showed solid defensive play and toughness in a hostile environment on Saturday night, as the Cats beat Auburn 70-59. UK never trailed
and held Auburn to just 30.9 percent shooting from the floor and made the most of Auburn’s 12 turnovers, converting those into 23 points.

Antonio Reeves led the Cats with 22 points and Adou Thiero added 14 points and eight rebounds. Rob Dillingham had 11 points, all in the first half, while Ugonna Onyenso had seven points and 11 rebounds

Kentucky scored first on a Justn Edwards dunk before Auburn tied the game at 2-2. The Cats would score the next nine points, including five from Dillingham, to lead 11-2.

Auburn (20-6, 9-4) would get a three from Chad Baker-Mazara to get within six, 11-5 before Reeves hit a pair of free throws to give UK a 13-5 advantage. After Auburn scored four straight, Kentucky got D.J. Wagner layup and a three from Reeves to extend the lead to 18-9 and force an Auburn timeout.

UK would extend the lead to 19-9 on an Onyenso free throw, but Auburn scored the next four points to make it 19-13. However, Kentucky responded with an 8-2 run, the last six of which came from Theiro, to lead 27-15 with 5:09 left in the half.

Auburn fought back, scoring the next five points before a Reed Sheppard bank shot gave the Cats a 29-20 lead. Auburn would get back within five, 30-25, before UK got another Reeves three and four straight points from Dillingham to extend the lead to 37-25 with 1:11 remaining in the half. UK would hold a 39-29 lead at the break.

Kentucky scored the first four points of the second half to lead 43-29. Auburn answered with a 7-2 run to get back within nine, 45-36. After a Theiro dunk, Auburn responded with an 8-2 run to make it 49-44 with 11:53 to play.

Once again, UK responded. Reeves drove to the basket for a layup and Thiero hit a pair of free throws to make it 53-44. After a K.D. Johnson basket for Auburn, Reeves made another layup, then a three to extend the lead to 58-46 with 8:38 to play. A pair of Wagner free throws made it 60-46.

Auburn would not go away. The Tigers mounted a 10-4 run to make it 64-56 with 2:59 to play. Auburn would eventually get within seven, 66-59, but UK scored the final four points to seal 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 as well as a Wooden Award late season Top 20 finalist and the Naismith Trophy midseason list.

He is UK’s leading scorer at 19.5 points per game. Reeves is tallying marks of 49.3% from the field, 43.9% from 3-point range and 86.5% from the free-throw line — all career bests. He is the only Power 5 player averaging at least 1.5 made 3-pointers and tallying at least .490% from the field, .435 from 3-point range and .865 from the charity stripe.

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 13 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. Nine of his 23 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 24 points shy of reaching the 1,000-point plateau.

In his career with UK he has 49 double-digit scoring games, 38 games with multiple made 3s, 23 20-point games and eight games with five or more made 3s.

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)

15. Patrick Sparks (151 in 69 games, 2.19 per game)
16. Jamal Mashburn (148 in 98 games, 1.51 per game)
17. Richie Farmer (147 in 118 games, 1.25 per game)
18. Antonio Reeves (145 in 59 games, 2.46 per game)

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