The Kentucky Wildcats fell to the Florida Gators on Wednesday night in Lexington by a score of 94-91 in overtime.
The short-handed Cats got off to a quick start. A new starting five didn’t slow down Kentucky at all. The defense held up nicely, and Kentucky was able to take a 41-36 lead into the half.
After the break, a back-and-forth affair ensued. This was just like the contest earlier this month, where the Cats and Gators took the other’s punches time after time. This time, neither team could get the job done in regulation. Florida hit a 3 with three seconds remaining to force overtime.
This time, Kentucky couldn’t get the job done and went cold in OT, while the Gators made their free throws to close out the win.
Next up, the Cats will take on the hated Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday night in Lexington.
No DJ, no Edwards, no problem(?)
DJ Wagner and Justin Edwards both unexpectedly missed this game. Wagner is dealing with an ankle issue, and Edwards was out with a leg injury. The extent of the injuries is unknown at this time.
Luckily, the Cats didn’t miss a beat without, either. As you may remember, the last time Wagner didn’t play, Kentucky lost at home to UNC-Wilmington. The announcement 15 minutes prior to the tip obviously made many people nervous.
John Calipari rolled out a starting five of Reed Sheppard, Antonio Reeves, Adou Thiero, Tre Mitchell, and Ugonna Onyenso. Rob Dillingham made his return after missing the game Saturday against the Arkansas Razorbacks. He played significant minutes.
Kentucky missed Wagner, but the guard-driven roster flourished without Edwards. Ugo, which we’ll get into more below, also took advantage of the start in place of Aaron Bradshaw. Sheppard was great, Dillingham thrived, and Reeves did what he always does.
All in all, the Cats looked good (offensively), but they couldn’t finish. Wagner’s defense would have been great on that final possession in regulation.
Onyenso has arrived
Kentucky’s been experimenting with their bigs since Bradshaw returned after a seven-game absence. Onyenso was still out, and Big Z hadn’t been ruled eligible, but it was exciting when a small-ball team gained a 7-footer. Little did we know that the sophomore big returning from injury would be better than the former five-star, projected lottery pick in Bradshaw.
Onyenso was always known as a good shot blocker—maybe even elite. However, his playing time has been limited. That’s changed over the last couple of weeks. He was excellent last time out and even better in this one.
Onyenso is, without a doubt, an elite rim protector. He cleans up the glass and has accepted his role as a cleanup/lob guy on the offensive end. He’s still questionable and extremely raw on the offensive end—I mean he missed several point-blank layups—but the good outweighs the bad.
To put it simply, Ugo is Kentucky’s best big.
Aggressive Reed Sheppard is fun
There’s no denying Sheppard’s talent. His efficiency numbers are close to unmatched, but his aggression level has left fans wanting more.
Sheppard is an elite shooter. His sky-high basketball IQ allows him to jump passing lanes regularly and find open guys that no one else can. Reed’s a fun and really talented player.
Unfortunately, his minutes have been limited, albeit due to several legitimate reasons. He’s not a good on-ball defender. He tends to be passive offensively. In short, it seems he’s hit a bit of a freshman wall, especially in SEC play.
That wasn’t the case in this game. Sheppard didn’t shy away from the moment when Kentucky really needed him. Sheppard was aggressive all night long and took full advantage of his starting role. He looked like a totally different player than he has over the last month. He was Kentucky’s best player tonight, and he’ll continue to be if he keeps playing like this.
Kentucky’s dropped a big one here. Losses on the road are one thing, but tonight is unacceptable. This team has a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it.
First appeared on www.aseaofblue.com