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Men's Basketball

Kentucky Falls In Pivotal Matchup Against Kansas

Photo credit of UK Athletics

The battle of the blue bloods was on in Lexington on Saturday, and there was a buzz around Lexington that has not been felt in a long time. In a packed Rupp Arena, Kentucky battled Kansas in the finale to the Big 12/SEC challenge. Kansas walked in on a three game skid, but managed to go on a run towards the end of the first half and propel themselves to a lead that they never relinquished. The Jayhawks ended the Cats four game winning streak by taking down the Cats with a score 77-68.

The Cats could never get shots to land, struggling to find the three point shot, finishing 2-13 from the three. It was clear the Jayhawks were not going to let Reeves and CJ find their shot. Kansas blanketed those two, running them off the line and forcing either a hard two or a kickout. Just a week ago the Cats shot 32 three point shots, this game they struggled to find a clear three. Kentucky came out shooting high percentage close shots, but once Kansas locked down the paint and faced Reeves and Fredrick, the shot percentage dwindled and the Cats struggled to find easy shots.

For a team that ranks third in the nation for offensive rebounds, Kentucky struggled to get any offensive rebounds. In the first half, the Cats were held to zero offensive rebounds. Kentucky averages a little more than 12 offensive rebounds a game, but the Jayhawks held them to only four total on Saturday. Calipari came to the defense of his players, stating a lot of what Kansas was doing was face to face boxing out Oscar and other Kentucky rebounders, which is believed to be illegal in basketball. Kansas gameplay was to stop Oscar from getting to the ball, and they were doing what Calipari was stating, but as Cal said “it is no excuse”, but if Bill Self’s team can get away with doing it to slow down the reigning National Player of the Year, then it is an excellent game plan.

Down the stretch, Kentucky kept fighting to get the lead down, getting it as far down as one at 51-50. The Cats could never get over the hump though, and give Kansas all the credit. They hit tough shots down the stretch to extend their lead when Kentucky was making their numerous runs. Jalen Wilson ran Toppin ‘all over the floor’ as Toppin stated, and hit two big shots to break the backs of Kentucky fans. When Kentucky needed a bucket, they could not get one to fall down the final two minutes. While Kansas hit four shots to close out the game.

Chris Livingston started the game strong, getting a few quick buckets and spark the crowd. Calipari yanked him out of the game, later stating that Kansas was ‘leaving Chris by himself cause he crowded the floor with Oscar, we have to learn how to play like that.’. Livingston played well, but the floor spacing was off in halfcourt sets, stagnating the Cats offense.

On the other hand, Antonio Reeves has been on fire lately, notching double figures in many of his games. While he did finish with double figures, he did shoot 3-9 from the field and 0-3 from three point land. Fellow sharpshooter CJ Fredrick finished 1-8 from the field and 0-5 from three point territory. If you hope to win games against any quality opponents, your scorers have to make baskets or find their shot.

It was apparent Kansas wanted to take all of Kentucky’s strengths away, and they did. Oscar and the other bigs could not rebound the ball and the shooters couldn’t make shots. It was a perfect recipe to win against a Cats team that was finding their stride. Kentucky played decent to be limited to their strengths, but if you want to make the tournament and make a run, you have to overcome that gameplan cause that is how teams will be this surging Kentucky team.

Now Kentucky is 1-7 against Quad 1 opponents. This game was a major chance for Kentucky to notch a quality win at home, and help boost their tournament chances. This is not the end of the season, but you won’t have the same opportunities as you had tonight. There are other major games coming down the stretch, but this one just slipped from the Cats hands. It will be interesting to see how they respond to a bottom tier Ole Miss team on Tuesday.

The Cats travel to Oxford Tuesday and face an Ole Miss team that is 1-7 in conference play. It is another late game for Cats fans, as the game will be played on ESPN at 9 PM ET.

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