And that’ll do it for the 2022-23 Kentucky Wildcats.
During the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday afternoon, No. 6 Kentucky’s season came to an end with a 75-69 loss to the No. 3 Kansas State Wildcats in Greensboro, NC. Poor outside shooting doomed UK, which made just four of its 20 attempts from three-point range. Despite outrebounding Kansas State 44-25, Kentucky turned the ball over twice as many times (16-8) in the loss.
Oscar Tshiebwe was his usual self in what was likely his last game in a Kentucky uniform. He posted 25 points and 18 rebounds on 8-13 shooting, although he did turn the ball over five times. Cason Wallace was also spectacular for the Wildcats, particularly in the second half, registering 21 points, nine rebounds, and four assists on 9-11 shooting, but also five turnovers of his own.
Chris Livingston added 11 points and seven rebounds while Antonio Reeves didn’t make his first field goal until there were just eight seconds left in the game (1-15 FG). Only three UK players scored more than five points.
Kentucky led for a total of 23:41 compared to just 9:40 for Kansas State, but KSU All-American point guard Markquis Nowell took over when his team needed him the most. The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year was a flamethrower on offense, finishing with 27 points (23 in the second half alone) and nine assists. Fellow All-Big 12 First Team member, Keyontae Johnson, went for 13 points, four rebounds, and three assists for Kansas State.
If you were hoping for a high-scoring first half, you’ll be disappointed to know that was not the case. Through the opening 20 minutes, both sides were a combined 2-23 from beyond the arc with the two makes going to Kentucky. The early Kansas State misses helped Tshiebwe pad his stats, as the big man was up to five rebounds in just four minutes of play. It didn’t help Kentucky’s cause though, with Reeves starting the afternoon 0-4 from the floor, including three misses from deep.
Wallace helped power the first run of the game for UK, burying a contested three-pointer ahead of the shot block buzzer before converting on a tough and-one at the rim the next possession down. After hitting the free throw, Kentucky held a 15-7 lead, the largest of the first half by either team. CJ Fredrick would soon get in on the action too, drilling his first triple since March 1.
But Kansas State, led by 5-foot-7 point guard Markquis Nowell, soon began to make its own run. After Keyontae Johnson picked up his second foul with 3:56 left in the first half, Nowell’s fingerprints were placed all over this game through lane penetration and artistic playmaking. Kansas State would take the lead, 23-22, with under three minutes left until halftime, the team’s first since the score was 3-2.
A timely and-one slam from Tshiebwe, who posted 11 points and 11 rebounds in the opening half, put an end to a lengthy scoring drought for the ‘Cats, but Nowell continued to make plays. A perfectly executed alley-oop from Nowell to Nae’qwan Tomlin right before the intermission put Kansas State ahead 29-26.
There was a brief scary moment with about five minutes left when Wallace was accidentally hit in the head by the knee of Tshiebwe, which forced Kentucky’s starting point guard to the bench. Luckily, Wallace sat for just 29 seconds before returning to the floor, but he would soon pick up his second personal foul moments later, moving him back to the sidelines for the rest of the half.
Kentucky, which averages 11.6 turnovers per game this season, ended the first half with 11 miscues (and just 10 made field goals), eight coming from Wallace and Tshiebwe combined.
That extra rest for Wallace would prove to be important. Out of the locker room, Wallace took over. He scored the first five points of the second half for Kentucky, coming up with a steal and some hard-earned buckets. The Wildcats’ run would stretch to 9-0, forcing a Kansas State timeout, and eventually ballooned to 13-0 after another score from Wallace before K-State finally put out the fire.
Nowell would bring Kansas State back with the team’s first made three of the afternoon, which was part of an 8-0 run that immediately knotted the score at 39-39. A couple of minutes later, Nowell powered Kansas State on another run, this one 6-0, to take a 47-43 lead and force John Calipari to call a timeout.
Kentucky had the answer though in the form of Wallace. He would put in his 11th point of the second half (on a perfect 5-5 shooting) with 8:05 left in regulation to push the ‘Cats back on top, 50-49. The pace would pick up from there. Tshiebwe scored six straight for UK before Wallace drove in for a layup. Meanwhile, Nowell was going nuclear, dropping in two difficult three-pointers that had no business going in.
As we went into the final media timeout, Kentucky was barely hanging on, 60-59. Kansas State would then deliver the game-deciding blows. Back-to-back contested three-pointers made it a five-point lead for Kansas State with under 90 seconds to go. Reeves would miss on the other end for the ‘Cats, all but ending Kentucky’s season. Kansas State hit its free throws down the stretch, holding on to the win and moving on to the Sweet 16 in the process.