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Kentucky vs. UCLA: Postgame Recap and Three Things to Know

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UK Athletics

On Saturday, the No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats traveled to Madison Square Garden to play the No. 16 UCLA Bruins in the annual CBS Sports Classic. The contest offered a chance for redemption for the Wildcats, as they played their first-ranked opponent since a demoralizing loss to Gonzaga back in November.

Through the first five minutes, both teams traded baskets, and it seemed pretty even. Cason Wallace even got off to another quick start, scoring 5 points in the opening 90 seconds for the Wildcats.

However, Kentucky was forced into difficult shots for much of the half and played uncharacteristic defense as the Bruins’ steadily built a 13-point lead with more than six minutes to go in the half. Thanks to the energy of Chris Livingston and Lance Ware, Kentucky was able to chip the lead down to eight going into halftime, 35-27.

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Their energy earned them the right to start the second half. Ware immediately answered as he fought for an offensive board and kicked it out for a Sahvir Wheeler three, which was followed by three straight baskets by Chris Livingston to tie up the game at 38.

UCLA quickly responded to go up 46-40, but the Wildcats kept fighting keeping the lead within reach. In the end, the Wildcats made far too many mistakes to beat a legit top-25 team, falling by a final score of 63-53.

Up next, Kentucky returns home next Wednesday to host Florida A&M.

Now, here are three things to know from the game.

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Sluggish State, Offensive Woes Spell Doom

Coming into the contest, KenPom had UCLA ranked in the top 10 in offensive efficiency and Kentucky top 10 in defensive efficiency. However, in the battle of strengths, the UCLA offense reigned supreme.

In the first half alone, the Bruins shot just five threes and that was because they were not forced to take them. The Wildcat defense allowed UCLA to shoot 50 percent from the field, getting nearly anything they wanted.

When the defense isn’t up to par, the offense needs to step up, and that was the real issue for the Wildcats. Yet, down just 55-53 with 4:31 to go, Kentucky still had the chance to win but they didn’t score for the remainder of the game. 53 points in a regulation game vs. anyone is awful.

On the game, they were abysmal in nearly by nearly every offensive metric, shooting below 35% from the field for the game while having more turnovers (18) than assists (14). This offense is a major problem. And until it gets solved, Kentucky will keep losing to quality foes.

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Who Steps Up?

In the first half, Kentucky only had three players hit more than one field goal: Oscar Tshiebwe, Cason Wallace, and Sahvir Wheeler. To add insult to injury, the rest of the team was less than lackluster, shooting a combined 3/15 from the field. This put the Wildcats in a hole early.

Oscar Tshiebwe had a bad game by his standards with eight points on 4/12 shooting but did grab 16 rebounds. Other than that, Sahvir Wheeler had 11 points, and Chris Livingston had 14, but Jacob Toppin, Cason Wallace, and Antonio Reeves combined for 18 points on 6/35 shooting.

Yikes.

If this team wants to reach its full potential, then they have to receive consistent contributions from key players, something that has yet to happen.

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How About Lance? And Livingston?

While the Wildcats didn’t receive a lot of help outside of Tshiebwe-Wallace-Wheeler, there were two players that stepped up, Chris Livingston and Lance Ware, giving the Wildcats a fighting chance.

For weeks, John Calipari has been quoted that he needs to play Livingston more. On Saturday night, one of the biggest stages in basketball, Livingston made his case for more playing time. In his best game of the season, Livingston recorded 14 points on 5/9 shooting.

As for Lance Ware, he has been another player that has received inconsistent playing time, but has carved himself out a role on the roster in his three seasons.

That role? A high-energy player off the bench, which he provided again on Saturday.

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Recording just two points and five rebounds, Ware’s value beyond the box score was on display. As proof, he led the team in plus/minus, with +8. This ultimately helped Kentucky make this a game when all hope seemed lost.


At this point, the Wildcats have lost all three of their ranked matchups in the non-conference and will kick off an even more challenging SEC schedule at the end of this month.

Personally, I don’t like to be negative. Yet, it is now fair to question, when or even if this team will start to click.

Also published on A Sea of Blue.

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Men's Basketball

Pre-Florida Cason Wallace Injury Update

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© Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Against Ole Miss, Kentucky was tasked with the challenge of beating the Rebels without star freshman Cason Wallace, as he was ruled out before the game with a knee contusion. While Sahvir Wheeler stepped up and was able to tough out the win, this team needs Wallace if they want to make a run.

With Kentucky still on the bubble and a talented Florida team – with a victory over Tennessee – coming to Lexington on Saturday, it would be ideal to get Wallace back in the lineup ASAP. During his call-in show on Wednesday, Calipari spoke on Wallace’s injury and his status.

“We did not know, until really game time, that Cason wasn’t going to go,” Calipari said. “At the shootaround, we weren’t doing anything live, he just stepped funny and said, ‘Ouch.’ And so then he went to the back and I said, ‘What is it?’ He’s fine. It was a contusion from the Kansas game but he practiced the day before but it bothered him so he was out for the game.”

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Wallace’s status for Florida?

“I don’t know,” Calipari said. “He went and got checked out. He banged knees and so it’s painful but there’s nothing structural. That’s all good, but we’ll see. If he doesn’t, it’s next man up. One guy’s misery is another guy’s opportunity.”

If ruled out, that opportunity will certainly be given to Sahvir Wheeler who recorded 4 points, 9 assists, and 4 rebounds against Ole Miss, playing through an ankle injury of his own that he suffered in the first half.

Given that Wallace sitting out was more of a precaution and that he practiced the day before, it can be assumed that is more likely than not that he will be ready to go this weekend.

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On the season, Wallace is averaging 11.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 2.0 steals while starting all 21 games in which he’s appeared in. Wallace ranks sixth in the SEC in steals, seventh in assists, and eighth in assist-to-turnover ratio.

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Men's Basketball

Kentucky vs Florida: TV/Streaming Info and Keys to the Game

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© Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Sitting on the NCAA Tournament bubble but leaning in, the Kentucky Wildcats must keep winning. After gritting out a victory over Ole Miss, they turn their focus to a Florida Gator team that also finds themselves on the bubble, but on the outside looking in.

Led by first-year head coach, Todd Golden, the Gators are a team mostly made up of transfers, so expectations are not what they have been in the past. This was seen in their 7-6 record in the non-conference schedule.

However, they have figured some things out in conference play, sitting at 6-3 and tied with Kentucky for third place in the SEC. This is not due to playing a tough schedule, as they have collected wins over Missouri and Tennessee, and only lost by three to Auburn.

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Given where both teams stand, Saturday is going to be a dogfight. Let’s take a closer look at the matchup.

Health of Cason Wallace

Kentucky was able to win at Ole Miss with relative ease Tuesday, despite starting point guard Cason Wallace being out with what John Calipari is calling a knee contusion. Wallace suffered the injury against Kansas by banging his knee during the contest, though he was able to finish the game.

The injury got worse during Tuesday’s shootaround, so Wallace was held out for precautionary measures.

During his Wednesday call-in show, Calipari said that while this isn’t a long-term issue, Wallace is uncertain to play vs. Florida.

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“I don’t know,” Calipari said of Wallace’s status for Saturday. “He went and got checked out. He banged knees, so it’s painful, but there’s no structural (damage). That’s all good, but we’ll see.”

If Wallace can’t go, that would be a major loss against a Florida team that suddenly looks very dangerous, even if UK has a full roster.

The good news is Sahvir Wheeler is a capable backup who did well vs. the Gators last year. In those two matchups, Wheeler shot a combined 10/17 for 22 points with 11 assists vs. three turnovers.

Still, there’s no question Wallace is the superior player. His availability may very well decide who wins Round 1 of this series.

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Interior Defense

While Florida ranks 144th in offensive efficiency, they rank 10th in defensive efficiency. A large part of this is due to their interior defense, ranked third in the country in blocked shots with an average of six per game.

Colin Castleton specifically is the star of the Florida defense, accounting for over half (3.2 bpg) of Florida’s blocked shots. What is more impressive, is that he’s doing it without fouling, averaging 1.48 blocks for every foul. The Gators also do well at stealing entry passes, an area where the Wildcats have struggled.

With that being said, it is not going to be easy for Oscar Tshiebwe in the paint and Kentucky will need to hit some three-pointers to help space the floor, making Antonio Reeves a very important piece yet again. And hopefully, CJ Fredrick can see a couple go down.

Offensive Rebounding

Given Florida’s stout defense, it is likely Kentucky will find it difficult to score and one way to counter that is with offensive rebounds and extra possessions. Which has been a large part of Kentucky’s offensive game plan.

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After recording double-digit offensive rebounds in 17 of their first 19 games, Kentucky has failed to gather more than seven in their past three games. In two of those contests, the Wildcats shot well enough from the field to win, but that was not the case against Kansas, shooting just 15% from three.

Fortunately, Florida is a team that tends to give up offensive rebounds, rankings in the lower half of the country in that category. In all but one of their nine losses, Florida has lost the rebound battle. This is an area Kentucky will need to capitalize on.

Capture and Hold the Momentum

While the Kentucky offense has improved, it is still difficult for them to make runs in short spurts. Plagued by poor starts for much of the season, this has put them in early holes that take time to dig themselves out of.

Against Kansas, Kentucky got off to a better start, but they allowed the Jayhawks to end the first half on an 11-4 run. For the rest of the game, that lead stayed at around 6-7 points and gave Kansas a cushion to answer any attempt at a Kentucky run.

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As mentioned earlier, this is an important game that Kentucky cannot afford to lose. Capturing the momentum early and holding it will make winning a much easier task.

Bonus: Mike Pratt Jersey Retirement

The late Mike Pratt will have his jersey raised to the Rupp Arena rafters on Saturday. A long overdue moment, the former All-SEC Wildcat and longtime broadcaster will be honored for his accomplishments and service to the program.

Pratt’s jersey retirement will be just the second in the last two decades and the first since Tony Delk’s in 2015. One thing that would make Pratt proud is a win over Florida.

Kentucky Basketball (15-7) vs. Florida Gators (13-9)

Time/Date: 8:30 pm ET on Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Location: Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY
TV Channel: ESPN
Online Stream: WatchESPNESPN+, SEC Network+ or ESPN app
Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens have the UK radio network call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
Replay: WatchESPN and SEC Network (check local listings).
Rosters: UK | FLA
Team SheetsUK | FLA
Stats To Know: UK | FLA

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Odds: DraftKings Sportsbook has yet to release the odds. ESPN’s matchup predictor is very confident in Kentucky’s chances, giving the Wildcats a 75.2% chance to win, though that’s obviously assuming Cason Wallace plays. Bart Torvik has it closer, giving Kentucky a 58% chance, while KenPom has it at 63%.

PredictionsBart Torvik picks the Wildcats to win in a nail-biter, 68-66. KenPom is going with a 70-66 victory, Kentucky!

Also published on a Sea of Blue.

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Men's Basketball

Daimion Collins Lost 16 Pounds Following the Passing of His Father

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© Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Daimion Collins came to Kentucky in 2021 as a McDonald’s All-American. Standing 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan, Collins possessed the physical tools but was a raw talent. In his first season, he showed flashes but did not quite have the strength or the confidence to receive consistent playing time.

This past offseason, Collins started a 5,000-calorie diet to gain some weight and in June he was already up to 210 pounds from a starting weight of 185 pounds. With his bulkier frame, reports started to come out that Collins was one of the most improved players on the team.

This was seen firsthand as the team traveled to the Bahamas, where Collins averaged 11 points and 5 rebounds. This showed that Collins was set to have an impact in his sophomore season.

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Then just days before the start of the regular season, Daimion Collins’ father, Ben Collins passed away. This was not only a big loss for Daimion but also for the team, seeing their teammate grieve.

Given the time of his father’s passing, this has significantly affected Collins this season. Following Tuesday’s win over Ole Miss, John Calipari provided some insight on just how much it has affected Collins.

“His dad passed away. His dad was his best friend, would have been the best man in his wedding,” Calipari said on Daimion’s relationship with his dad. “All of a sudden he loses 16 pounds and we’re playing other people.”

Sixteen pounds lost would put Collins close to his original weight when coming to Lexington, which would certainly set his development back. However, Collins’ mental well-being is the most important aspect right now.

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Against Ole Miss, he came in for just two minutes, but scored four points, including this and-one dunk.

While he didn’t play much, he was welcomed back to the bench with a hug from John Calipari, responding with a smile. “I love seeing him smile,” Calipari said, and so does Big Blue Nation.

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