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Men's Basketball

Kentucky vs. Florida A&M: Thinks to Know After and Game MVP

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UK Athletics

Amid an intense level of fan frustration, the Kentucky Wildcats returned to action on Wednesday against Florida A&M in the Unity Challenge. With the Rattlers being one of the worst teams in the country, this was an opportunity for the Wildcats

Before the start of the game, it was announced that Chris Livingston and Lance Ware would be placed into the starting lineup. To start, the lineup change paid dividends as they pushed themselves out to an 18-2 lead by the under-16-minute media timeout.

All but two of these points were scored by Tshiebwe-Wallace-Wheeler in those opening five minutes. As the half went on, more Wildcats started to contribute, including CJ Fredrick who was 3-4 on threes. However, with such a large lead, Calipari started to experiment with lineups and Florida A&M started to generate some offense, as Kentucky entered the half with just a 42-32 lead.

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Coming out of the half refocused, Kentucky pushed the lead back out to 21, in large part to Cason Wallace, who scored seven straight. Yet, FAMU responded, going a 14-2 run of their own to cut the lead to single digits with just over six minutes to go.

After a timeout to regroup, the Wildcats were on a mission to put the game away and did just that. Ending the game on an 11-2 run, Kentucky won the game by 20.

While Kentucky didn’t cover the 35-point spread, they used this game as a ‘practice’ to get better, as they should have. While there was some bad, there was a lot of learning.

Let’s take a closer look.

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Regaining Confidence

The Kentucky offense has been struggling and the droughts of CJ Fredrick and Antonio Reeves have not helped. On Wednesday, the duo looked as if they had finally broken through their slump.

Combining for 22 points, including 6-13 from three, Wednesday was a performance to build on going forward for the two players. In what was an otherwise insignificant game, it was important for Fredrick and Reeves just to see the ball go through the basket.

In order for this Kentucky team to reach its potential, both players need to be the consistent shooting threats they were brought to Lexington to be.

Young Guys Shine

Given the nature of this game, it was expected that some of the younger players would be given some playing time and that did happen.

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Cason Wallace played a team-high 31 minutes, but Livingston actually took a slight dip in minutes, playing just 15. This was primarily due to the play of CJ Fredrick and Antonio Reeves, but Livingston did score 8 points, including a three in that time.

Ugonna Onyenso and Adou Thiero are two players that also got some run in limited action. In just nine minutes Onyenso scored 4 points and added 5 rebounds, including four on the offensive end. As for Thiero, he played just three minutes but played hard, starting with a dive on the floor for a loose ball before adding a rebound, a steal, and nearly had a three before going in-ant-out.

Obviously, Wallace is a one-and-done, but the other three players could all come back next season and play big roles. It is good to see them contribute and continue to grow as players.

Better Offense, Defensive Troubles

Albeit against one of the worst teams in the country, the Kentucky offense looked better. Hitting a season-high 13 threes, the Wildcats were able to space the floor and were allowed to do a lot more.

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Cason Wallance and Sahvir Wheeler were able to take advantage of driving lanes and take what the defense was giving them. In Wallace’s case, he was a dual threat, scoring 27 points and adding 9 assists.

With that said, Kentucky let Florida A&M shoot 52.0 percent from the field and 56.3 percent from three. In comparison, the Rattlers are in the bottom 15 in average field goal percentage (38%).

While it is something of note, I don’t believe this is too concerning. When the defense was attentive and locked in, the Rattlers had two scoring droughts that four minutes or longer.

Game MVP: Cason Wallace

On Wednesday, Cason Wallace could not be stopped. Scoring 27 points, including five threes, to go along with 9 assists and 4 steals, Wallace became just the second player in the Calipari era to record 25+ points and 9+ assists.

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Playing 31 minutes, Wallace played the most on the team. Interestingly enough, in the second half, Wallace played 19 minutes in comparison to Sahvir Wheeler’s 6 minutes.

Wheeler is one of the best distributors in the country but with his size and poor shooting, defenses are able to sag off and help in the lane, anticipating a drive or pass inside. In the pick-and-roll offense, Wallace is more versatile and is a better option.

While both players bring their own skill sets and benefit the team in their own ways, the offense has performed better with Wallace running point. This could be something to watch going forward.

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Men's Basketball

Rick Pitino Endorses Mark Pope, “He Will Lead The Kentucky Wildcats To Another Championship”

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Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports/ Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The captain of Rick Pitino’s 1996 “Untouchables”, Mark Pope, is “coming home” to lead the Kentucky Wildcats as the program’s next head coach, officially announced on Friday. While there has been some criticism of the hire, Pitino says he “couldn’t be any prouder to see Mark Pope lead the Kentucky Wildcats.”

While Pope has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game in two appearances, Pitino points out that several top coaches had their trials early in their careers. It took Jay Wright 11 seasons to win his first NCAA Tournament, and Billy Donovan was hired at Florida without an NCAA Tournament appearance. However, he heralds Pope as one of the “premier young coaches” in college basketball.

“Offensively, no one does it better,” Pitino said. “The way his teams move. The way his teams shoot the three. The ball movement. It’s outstanding.”

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It’s just the X’s and O’s though, Pitino “guarantees” that Pope loves and understands the program as well as anyone. “I can guarantee to you one thing, that nobody epitomizes the name on the front of the jersey more than Mark Pope.”

“Mark Pope will go on to greatness. You can put it down,” Pitino said. “He will do you proud. “He will lead the Kentucky Wildcats to another championship”

If his endorsement isn’t enough, Rick Pitino says he will “write the check himself” for NIL to help Pope be successful.

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Men's Basketball

Mark Pope Releases Statement As He Is Announced As Kentucky Basketball Coach

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Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Per UK Athletics

When his alma mater came calling, Mark Pope knew there was no place like home.

Pope, a captain of the University of Kentucky’s 1996 National Championship team, has returned to Lexington as the 23rd head coach of Kentucky’s storied men’s basketball program, announced Friday.

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“The University of Kentucky is the pinnacle of coaching in college basketball,” Pope said. “It’s the definition of a blueblood program where hanging a banner is the expectation every year. Equally as important, UK changed my life forever as a human being. The love and passion I have for this program, this University and the people of the Commonwealth goes to the depth of my soul.”

“I’m thankful to Dr. (Eli) Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart for this opportunity. I’m proud to be your next head coach and I can’t wait to do this together!”

Pope is a nine-year head coaching veteran with stops at BYU and Utah Valley, amassing a 187-108 career record. His squads won 20 or more games in six of the last seven seasons and he has made six postseason appearances.

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Men's Basketball

REPORT: Mark Pope Set Sign Five-Year Deal to Become Next Kentucky Basketball Coach

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Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky has found their guy. Former Wildcat and NCAA Champion, Mark Pope, is now expected to be named the next Kentucky basketball coach on a five-year contract worth $5.5 million annually, first reported by CBS Sports. For perspective, based on last season’s salaries, that is more than Dan Hurley (UConn), Scott Drew (Baylor), and Nate Oats (Alabama).

Pope comes to Kentucky with nine seasons of head coaching experience, after serving as an assistant for six seasons, from 2009-2015. In 2015, he was hired by Utah Valley where he coached for four seasons. In 2019, Pope was hired at BYU where he has taken them to two NCAA Tournaments, but has been upset by a double-digit seed in both appearances.

Pope has proven himself as a good X-and-O coach in his nine-year career, running one of the most innovative offenses in the country, but recruiting will be a real test as he has never signed a four-star recruit. Who he hires on to his staff and collecting NIL support will be critical.

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The move has been met with much fan criticism, as fans have been quick to point out that Pope has never won a conference title or an NCAA Tournament game. However, Mitch Barnhart is confident in the move, with some reporting that he is “excited” with the hire.

Just three days into the coaching search, this is an interesting hire with several big names like Billy Donovan and Bruce Pearl potentially available. Barnhart made the decision not to wait for Donovan, who is currently coaching the Chicago Bulls, and Pearl was not considered due to his “baggage”.

A new era of Kentucky basketball has begun.

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