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

Big Blue Preview: Kentucky vs. Arkansas

No. 16 Kentucky will face Arkansas on Saturday, marking the third time this season that the Cats have face an opponent twice.

Kentucky beat Florida in Gainesville then lost to the Gators in Lexington. The Cats swept Mississippi State, winning in Lexington, then in Starkville on Tuesday night.

UK topped Arkansas 63-57 at Bud Walton Arena on Jan. 27. Antonio Reeves led the Cats with 24 points, while Tre Mitchell had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Kentucky freshman big man Zvonimir Ivisic played just under three minutes in that game, grabbing two rebounds during his time on the floor. Ivisic knows why he didn’t play more in that contest.

“I remember from that game I wasn’t physical enough so I didn’t play,” Ivisic said.

After not playing very much against Arkansas the first time, Ivisic believes he has gotten better in the past six weeks. He expects to be more of a factor against the Hogs this time around.

“I feel like I can,” Ivisic said. “I feel like I have improved. I have improved a lot since the last time against Arkansas.”

Ivisic knows that seeing a team for a second time will be more difficult for the Cats.

“We have already played against them, so we know something about them and they know something about us,” Ivisic said. “That makes it a little bit harder.”

When asked what the biggest difference is between American and European basketball, Ivisic did not hesitate to answer.

“I expected it be be as physical as it is,” Ivisic said. “I have to be more tough, more physical.”

Ivisic and the Cats will go for the regular season sweep against Arkansas on Saturday. The freshman hopes to be a bigger contributor this time around.

Last Time Out: Mississippi State Recap

No. 16 Kentucky found itself in a tough spot at Mississippi State on Tuesday night. Early in the second half, the Cats trailed 52-39 and appeared to be headed for another road loss in the Southeastern Conference.

Luckily for the Cats, freshman Reed Sheppard had other ideas. The London, Kentucky, native scored 23 of his career high 32 points in the second half, including the game-winning runner with less than a second remaining, as Kentucky rallied to win 91-89 inside Humphrey Coliseum.

Sheppard did it all for the Cats on Tuesday. In addition to his scoring, he had seven assists, five rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals, including one on MSU’s final possession, thwarting any opportunity for a final shot for the Bulldogs.

Kentucky (20-8, 10-5 SEC) got 21 points from Antonio Reeves, his 16th 20-point game of the season and his fourth in a row. Adou Thiero scored 11 points and D.J. Wagner had 10 for the Cats.

Mississippi State (19-9, 8-7) started the game hot, jumping out to a 14-3 lead, including 11 consecutive points. UK got a dunk from Zvonimir Ivisic, then a Justin Edwards layup, cutting the deficit to 14-7. A Sheppard three made it 14-10.

MSU stretched the lead to 21-14 before Sheppard hit another three to make it 21-17. After an MSU three-point play, Thiero hit a three from the right corner to cut it to 24-20. MSU added two free throws before a Thiero dunk. After a Tolu Smith bucket for state, Reeves hit a three to get the Cats within three, 28-25.

Another Smith layup made it 30-25 before Sheppard hit his third three of the first half to make it 30-28. The teams would trade baskets before MSU ran off five in a row to lead 37-30 with 2:50 left in the half. A Reeves bucket cut it to 37-32 but D.J. Jeffries and Josh Hubbard hit threes to give the Bulldogs a 43-32 advantage. UK got a Wagner three late in the half but MSU led 43-35 at the break.

MSU scored the first five points of the second half before Kentucky got a Reeves jumper and a Thiero layup to make it 47-39. However, the Bulldogs scored the next five and led 52-39, forcing a UK timeout.

The Cats would answer out of the stoppage in play. Rob Dillingham hit a pair of free throws, then assisted on a Thiero dunk. A driving basket by Reeves cut the deficit to 52-45 with 16:35 remaining.

Mississippi State scored the next four to extend the lead to 56-45 before Sheppard drove to the basket and made a layup. On the next UK possession, Reeves hit a three, making it 56-50. After an MSU basket, Reeves made a shot and was fouled. He converted the three-point play to make it 58-53.

The Bulldogs would extend the lead to 60-53 before Sheppard drove to the basket, made the shot and was fouled. His three-point play got UK within four, 60-56. A Thiero dunk got the Cats within two, 60-58. But Smith scored for the Bulldogs, making it 62-58 with 10:25 remaining.

After a couple of empty possessions for both teams, Sheppard hit a floater to get the Cats within two, 62-60. MSU answered with another Smith basket but Sheppard hit a three to cut it to one, 64-63 with 7:29 to play.

The Bulldogs scored the next five before Reeves hit a basket and Sheppard got a steal and a layup, making it 69-67. After an MSU basket, the Cats got two free throws from Wagner and a three from Dillingham to lead for the first time, 72-71, with 4:24 remaining. The next time down, Dillingham hit Bradshaw for a dunk, giving UK a 74-71 lead.

Smith would get MSU within one on a putback basket but a Dillingham layup made it 76-73 with 1:56 to play. A pair of free throws got the Bulldogs within one but Sheppard answered with a basket in the lane, then a layup and free throw, giving UK an 81-75 advantage with 1:10 remaining.

Two Dillingham free throws made it 83-75 before a Hubbard three cut it to 83-78 with 50 seconds to play. Reeves hit two free throws before Hubbard hit another three, cutting it to 85-81 with 43 seconds left.

Sheppard hit two free throws to extend the lead to six but MSU scored the next five to make it 87-86 with 20 seconds to play. Sheppard hit two more free throws with 16 seconds to play, making it 89-86. Hubbard tied the game on a three with 10 seconds to play, setting the stage for Sheppard’s heroics.

Kentucky returns to action on Saturday, hosting Arkansas at Rupp Arena. Tipoff is set for 1:30 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on CBS.

UK Hall of Famer Tubby Smith Named 2024 SEC Legend

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – University of Kentucky Hall of Famer and National Championship coach, Orlando “Tubby” Smith will represent the Wildcats as a member of the 2024 Southeastern Conference Legends class at the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee.

Past greats from all 14 SEC member institutions will be honored at the league tournament at Bridgestone Arena. Each legend will be recognized during halftime of their team’s first game of the tournament, as well as a group introduction at halftime of the first semifinal game on Saturday.

Smith was head coach at Kentucky for 10 seasons, from 1998-2007, guiding the Wildcats to one national championship, five SEC regular-season crowns and five SEC Tournament titles. He compiled a record of 263-83 at UK, winning 76% of his games while taking on a schedule annually ranked among the nation’s toughest. He was named National Coach of the Year three times and SEC Coach of the Year three times during his term in Lexington.

Smith led the “Comeback Cats” to the 1998 NCAA Championship after falling behind by 17, 10 and 12 points, respectively, in the second half of the Elite Eight, Final Four and National Championship games of the tournament.

Smith took UK to the NCAA Tournament in all 10 seasons in Lexington, fashioning a 23-9 record in the event, and was 20-5 in the SEC tourney.

He ranks eighth in league history with 308 victories between his time with Kentucky and Georgia. His 139 SEC regular-season victories ranks 12th all-time in league annals. His career winning percentage of 75.1% is sixth all-time and his 72.4% in SEC league games is the fifth best.

Smith became the third head coach to be retired to the Rupp Arena rafters. He was inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013 and his jersey was retired in 2021.

The men’s basketball legends program began in 1999 with classes honored every year with the exception of 2020, 2021, and 2022.

2024 Allstate® SEC Basketball Legends
Alabama – Richard Hendrix, Basketball
Arkansas – Derek Hood, Basketball
Auburn – Cliff Ellis, Basketball
Florida – Taurean Green, Basketball
Georgia – Rashad Wright, Basketball
Kentucky – Orlando “Tubby” Smith, Basketball
LSU – Darrel Mitchell, Basketball
Ole Miss – Dwayne Curtis, Basketball
Mississippi State – Timmy Bowers, Basketball
Missouri – Willie Smith, Basketball
South Carolina – Joe Rhett, Basketball
Tennessee – Chris Lofton, Basketball
Texas A&M – Elston Turner, Basketball
Vanderbilt – Frank Seckar, Basketball

Kentucky returns to action with the first of two straight home games on Saturday. UK hosts Arkansas for a 1:30 p.m. ET tip on CBS.

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