Sunday, January 28, 2024

Arkansas 57 - 63 Kentucky (Win No. 2,390)

We count every Kentucky win here at the Heath Post, because we don't take any of them for granted.  Take yesterday.  Arkansas is having a terrible year.  I don't know why -- obviously they have some sort of internal problems over there.  In fact, they literally had a player quit the team yesterday before the game started.  But Jay Bilas and ESPN were in the House, Bud Walton Arena was rocking, and Arkansas was determined to bring down Kentucky.  Meanwhile, Rob Dillingham was out (UK said it was a stomach virus), and Kentucky couldn't make any shots.  I think they started 1-15 from the field, and that is not a typo.  After 10 minutes, Arkansas led Kentucky 12 to 4, and that's not a typo either.

Now you will recall that UK got pounded in South Carolina on Tuesday:  79 to 62.  The second half of the South Carolina game looked like a layup line as the Gamecocks made one easy basket after another.  So it would have been easy for UK to get discouraged.  But they kept plugging away.  Still, with about 14 minutes left, they were still down 37 to 31.

While all this was going on, Calipari was switching guys in and out like a fantasy football player -- trying to find some combination that would work.  Down 37 to 31, he went with the following grouping:  Reed Sheppard at point guard, D.J. Wagner at shooting guard, Antonio Reeves at small forward (really another shooting guard), Tre Mitchell at forward, and Ugonna Onyenso at center.  The Cats went on a 7-0 run to take their first lead of the game, and then that team (with few substitutions now) battled back and forth until the Cats led 53 to 52 with only 2:55 left.  Then this happened:

Reeves broke free off of a screen and nailed a three-pointer.  UK up 56 to 52 (2:41 left)

Sheppard stole the ball and threw an outlet pass that turned into a layup for Wagner.  UK up 58 to 52 (2:12 left)

After another Arkansas turnover, Tre Mitchell found Sheppard out beyond the three-point line, and Sheppard appeared endowed with the spirit of every Kentuckian who wanted to say, "This game is over."  His three-pointer hit nothing but net, and the Cats led 61 to 52 with only 1:41 left.

From there on, it was just a question of sitting through all the fouls and official reviews that clutter up the ending of every SEC basketball game.  Ken Pom named Sheppard as the Kentucky MVP -- and he deserved it:  2-3 from 3's, 3-9 from 2's, 2-3 from the line, 14 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals.  Reeves also had a huge game 4-8 from 3's, 5-12 from 2's, 2-3 from the line, 24 points and 4 rebounds.  On the whole, the Cats went 9-20 from behind the three point stripe, while Arkansas went 4-19.  That was the difference.  It was nice to see the other team finally miss some 3-pointers, but it was also good to see the Cats keep taking them -- and making them -- even after the bad start.

Anyway, it wasn't a very impressive win:  the Cats are at 19 on Ken Pom.  But it was a win at a moment when a loss would have been catastrophic.  If the Cats end up doing anything of significance this year, we shouldn't forget how they pulled out a very challenging January win on the road.

1 comment:

  1. I think Reed Sheppard might actually be Kyle Macy-level beloved at the moment.