FINAL: No. 12 Kentucky stunned by UNC-Wilmington at home in 80-73 loss

On3 imageby:Zack Geoghegan12/02/23


The leadup to Saturday’s game was filled with excitement. Rupp Arena unveiled a brand new court and Aaron Bradshaw was on the brink of making his Kentucky debut. The Big Blue Nation filled nearly every row in the building and there was a noticeable pregame buzz in the air.

But UNC-Wilmington came in and spoiled it all. The No. 12 Kentucky Wildcats (6-2) were upset by the Seahawks (6-2), 80-73, just one game after UK knocked off No. 8 Miami in the same arena earlier this week. Kentucky went down by double-digits in the first half and trailed by eight at the break. Although the Wildcats roared back to start the second half, UNC-Wilmington showed impressive poise down the stretch to come away with the stunning victory.

As a team, Kentucky shot just 40.7 percent from the field, a season-low 29.4 percent (5-17) from beyond the arc, and 20-25 (80 percent) from the free throw line. Meanwhile, UNC-Wilmington made 11 three-pointers and outscored Kentucky’s bench 46-5. Reed Sheppard led the way for UK with a team-high 25 points to go along with nine rebounds and six assists. Bradshaw played 13 minutes in his Wildcat debut, finishing with three points, two rebounds, and one block.

Despite all the hype surrounding Rupp’s new court and Bradshaw’s debut, Kentucky forgot to bring the same amount of energy that the BBN was producing. UNC-Wilmington got off to a red-hot start and maintained that throughout the first half. The Seahawks would take an early 13-4 lead not even five minutes into the game and didn’t slow down from there.

A three-pointer from Kentucky forward Tre Mitchell followed by a Bradshaw dunk (his first points as a Wildcat) cut that deficit down to just five, but UNC-Wilmington stayed hot. The Seahawks’ advantage would eventually hit double-digits right before the final media timeout of the half. Two more triples from UNC even made it a 14-point game in favor of the road team. Luckily, a made three-pointer followed up by a layup from UK just before the intermission made it a single-digit score at the break, 41-33.

UNC-Wilmington finished the first 20 minutes of play shooting 8-20 from beyond the arc compared to just a 2-8 mark for Kentucky. Although the Wildcats shot 11 more free throws, nine turnovers made it a struggle to establish any momentum. Kentucky entered the contest averaging just 8.1 miscues per game.

Things would change quickly though. By the first media timeout of the second half, Kentucky had flipped the game around completely, taking its first lead, 48-46, after a Sheppard three. But the Seahawks refused to go away. Both teams would exchange leads in the ensuing minutes, and with just 10 minutes to go, the score was knotted at 56-56.

UNC-Wilmington would throw the next punch, which proved to be the biggest one yet, rattling off a 6-0 run (part of a 13-1 stretch) to regain the lead with just under eight minutes to go. Sheppard would do his best to keep Kentucky alive, scoring back-to-back buckets in the paint at a crucial moment. A Mitchell and-one at the under-four-minute media timeout cut the Seahawks’ lead down to three after he missed the free throw.

Unfortunately, Kentucky would not be able to complete the comeback. UNC-Wilmington hit several tough shots down the stretch to seal the upset win, sending the BBN faithful home disappointed. Maybe those giant Central Bank stickers weren’t so bad after all…

Up next: Kentucky will take a full week off in between games before heading to Philadelphia for a matchup against Penn on Saturday, Dec. 9 at noon EST on ESPN2.

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