On Tuesday night at Rupp Arena, Sheppard and Dillingham combined for 33 points, 13 assists, and 10 rebounds in 55 total minutes during No. 12 Kentucky’s 95-73 statement win over the No. 8 Miami Hurricanes. The two split just one turnover between them and combined for a plus/minus of +40 (Sheppard was +35 by himself).
Even Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga was impressed with what he saw from the freshman backcourt duo. Then again, who wouldn’t be?
“Those guys are pretty good. I’d say those two guys are, I mean Reed ended up starting in the second half. I mean, those are two NBA guys,” Coach Larrañaga said postgame. “They’re terrific college players, but they’ll play beyond for sure. They can shoot it, they handle it, they share it extremely well. And I think that’s what’s impressive about Kentucky’s offense is how well they share the ball. They had 26 assists and we had eight, it’s not a good stat for us.”
Sheppard was especially impressive, shooting 8-13 from the field and 5-9 from beyond the arc. He also recorded three steals and pulled off what is becoming his signature defensive move: blocking an opponent’s three-point shot. Sheppard was a pest defending on the ball and drilled five of his first six three-pointers — each make eliciting a larger cheer from a Rupp Arena crowd just begging to explode.
“He’s so good at everything,” Larrañaga said of Sheppard. “I mean he can shoot it, he can handle it, he can pass it. He finds the open man great and he defends you know, you might look at him and think that okay, he’s not that athletic. You try to score on him, but he’s moving his feet using his hands and doing a great job at the defensive end of the floor as well. He comes up with a lot of deflections and steals as well. He had four assists and one turnover and then Dillingham had nine assists and no turnovers. That’s a pretty good night from your bench. They don’t start.”
And that’s the other thing: they don’t start. DJ Wagner and Antonio Reeves are the usual starters in the backcourt. They’re pretty good, too. Reeves dropped 18 points against Miami. Had an untimely injury not knocked Wagner out of the game down the stretch of the first half, he would have likely finished in double-figures, as well.
From the opponent’s standpoint, going from Wagner and Reeves to Sheppard and Dillingham is like being served steak for dessert after eating steak for dinner. There is no dropoff with this group of John Calipari guards. The Hurricanes learned that the hard way on Tuesday night.
“My best players that I have coached, and I’ve coached NBA MVPs, you know, those players are even-keel. Now, they will get emotional about a play, but they are never up and down,” Calipari said.