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Kentucky Dismantles 13th-Ranked Crimson Tide in Rupp

Badly needing a victory coming off a buzzer-beater loss at LSU on Wednesday night, the Kentucky Wildcats matched up with the red-hot 13th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in a blockbuster college hoops contest.

The loss at LSU on Wednesday came after a clutch Rob Dillingham jumper put the Cats up 74-73 with 12 seconds remaining. LSU then came down the court, and LSU’s Jordan Wright got hit with a layup blocked by Adou Thiero, but the ball was saved in bounce, and LSU’s Tyrell Ward hit a game-winning layup as time expired.

This was a loss that shouldn’t have happened for the Cats, as they led by as many as 15 in the second half. Coming off of this tough loss, the Cats had to make a statement on Saturday vs. Alabama, and they did.

Kentucky went on to win 117-95 against the Tide, locking up the school record for most points ever scored against a ranked opponent. Alabama was 13-2 in their last 15 games going into this contest with Kentucky.

The Cats were led by freshman forward Justin Edwards, who shot a perfect 10/10 for 28 points, five points, and two steals. Edwards's 10/10 shooting set the record for most field goals without a miss in the Calipari era, just passing former Kentucky center Nick Richards.

Edwards had a rough first half of the season for Kentucky, not getting nearly as many looks as his freshman classmates, despite being the #1 ranked recruit in this Kentucky class. However, over the last six games, Edwards has burst onto the scene,  averaging 13 points per game. 

Edwards has the opportunity to be a very important piece for this Kentucky team, catching fire at the right time.

Due to Edwards's masterful performance, many other Wildcats had their games overshadowed, as the Cats shot 63.1% from the field and 54.2% from three. For example, Kentucky’s leading scorer, Antonio Reeves, had 24 points, five assists, and two steals while shooting an efficient 7/10 from the field. 

Reeves has 15+ points in 23/27 games this season, 20+ in 15/27, and 25+ points in four games this season. He has provided scoring and leadership all season long and has been Kentucky’s most consistent player all season.

Another player who had a phenomenal game is Croatian phenom Zvonimir Ivisic, who played a season-high 20 minutes on the biggest stage and put up season-highs in points with 18 and blocks with four. The 7-foot-2 big man nicknamed “Big Z” almost had one of the best plays in all of sports on Saturday with a crisp no-look behind-the-back pass to a cutting Adou Thiero, who missed a dunk after receiving the perfect pass.

Although he missed the dunk for the highlight play, Thiero was once again massively important for Kentucky on Saturday. Despite playing only 16 minutes due to foul trouble, Thiero scored 12 points on 5/7 shooting. Thiero’s aggressive presence is always visible on the court and gives this Kentucky team the toughness they have needed all season.

Kentucky’s off-the-bench superstar duo of guards Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham also shined bright in their usual roles on Saturday, with Sheppard doing it all and Dillingham being an electric scorer.

Sheppard finished the day with eight points, six assists, six rebounds, and four steals, doing it all for the Cats. Despite coming off the bench, Sheppard still led the Cats in minutes on Saturday.

What Sheppard is doing defensively this season is beyond special. After his four-steal game on Saturday, Sheppard retains the steals lead in the SEC with 2.7, sits at seventh in the country in steals per game, and is 13 steals away from passing Rajon Rondo for the single-season Kentucky steals record. Sheppard will have to play a minimum of six games to break that record. With Sheppard averaging 4.3 steals per game over his last six games, it would be shocking if he didn’t break the record this season.

Guard Rob Dillingham had a quiet game by his standards but still ended up with 16 points and four assists on nine shots, the fourth-highest point total on the team. The quietness of his 16 points emphasizes how lethal a scorer Dillingham is. 

This win massively helps Kentucky in many ways. Firstly, they were sure to have plummeted in the AP Poll after losing to LSU, who was 14-12 at the time. After dismantling Alabama, Kentucky starts this week as the 16th-ranked team, moving up one spot from last week, while the Crimson Tide fell just one spot to 14 in this week’s poll.

Kentucky also jumps up to 19th in the NCAA’s net rankings, while Alabama falls to 6th in the same rankings.

Kentucky is currently sitting at t-5th in the SEC standings with four games to go. They sit at 9-5  just behind Tennessee and Alabama at 11-3, South Carolina and Auburn at 10-4, and tied with Florida.

While Kentucky doesn’t have the easiest schedule to finish the season, they have a better chance to win than some of the other teams above them. Kentucky finishes the season with games at Mississippi State,  Arkansas, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee to end the season.

As March approaches, Kentucky needs to build off big wins against Auburn and Alabama to try and win the final four games of the regular season and pursue an SEC Championship and a National Championship next month.

Image 1 Credit: Dylan Ballard/Sea of Blue

Image 2 Credit: Samuel Colmar/kentucky kernel

Image 3 Credit: Samuel Colmar/kentucky kernel


Image 4 Credit: Samuel Colmar/kentucky kernel


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