Cats come up short on Senior Night

Published 10:40 am Thursday, March 2, 2023

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It was not a memorable sendoff for Kentucky’s senior class.

Vanderbilt ended a 14-game losing streak to the Wildcats and escaped with a 68-66 triumph over No. 23 Kentucky in its home finale Wednesday night at Rupp Arena.

Kentucky (20-10, 11-6) started five of the six seniors honored before the contest. Brennan Canada joined classmates CJ Fredrick, Jacob Toppin and Oscar Tshiebwe, along with freshman guard Cason Wallace in the starting lineup. Canada played just 46 seconds before senior Antonio Reeves entered the contest.

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The Wildcats also were without senior guard Sahvir Wheeler, who underwent a minor procedure unrelated to his injured ankle and did not participate in the pregame ceremony. Ellen Calipari filled in for Wheeler during the ceremony. Kentucky coach John Calipari said Wheeler likely will be out for at least two more weeks while recovering from an undisclosed procedure.

Wallace suffered a lower leg injury and didn’t play in the final 18 minutes. The absence of Wallace and Wheeler forced Kentucky to use a makeshift lineup. The Wildcats rallied from an 11-point deficit in the second half, but a spin move in the lane by Jordan Wright with 2.6 seconds remaining gave Commodores coach Jerry Stackhouse his first victory over Kentucky in nine tries.

Reeves missed a desperation trey at the buzzer that ended Kentucky’s four-game winning streak going into the regular-season finale at Arkansas Saturday.

“I loved my team’s fight in the second half. They never gave in,” Calipari said. “We were shorthanded, but there’s no excuse; let’s go.”

Kentucky did just that, but field goals took a lot of work to come by for the Wildcats.

Neither team shot well, but Kentucky made 32 percent of its shots from the field and connected on just three 3-pointers, two of which came in the second half, on 19 attempts. The Wildcats missed ten free throws on 35 attempts.

“We missed a lot of shots,” Thsiebwe said. “We kept fighting, but the last shot they made, I don’t know what to think. We did everything we could, but we just could not make a shot.”

Despite the inability to make shots and the absence of Wallace and Wheeler, the Wildcats still had a chance to overcome the poor shooting performance down the stretch.

“When Cason went down it was a little bit of a struggle, but honestly, we still should have won that game,” Toppin said. “We had a bad shooting night from the floor, from the three, I don’t think we shot free throws well, either. For us to have a bad shooting night like we did and still have a chance to win the game shows what type of team we are.

“We can’t dwell on this loss. We’ve got to move forward and understand what we’ve got to do to get better for the next game.”

In what was likely his last home game, Tshiebwe posted a double-double with 21 points and 20 rebounds. Reeves followed with 14 points.

“It’s tough,” Reeves said. “It’s just one of those things where we have to lock in as a team offensively and defensively and not worry about what will happen. We just have to keep fighting. That’s how we are and what it comes down to.”