It’s Super Bowl Sunday, one of the best days of the year, and another sad Saturday night at Rupp Arena isn’t going to spoil it. We can’t let one bad day become two, you know? So, before I put these wings on the smoker and place a couple more prop bets (Go Chiefs), I will look at last night’s game from a glass-half-full perspective, although it’s realistically more like a quarter of the way full or like a tiny bit of liquid in the glass. Regardless, here’s some next-day positivity, so we’re not a bunch of grouches on Super Bowl Sunday. We did our whining last night after the game and will do it again on Monday morning radio. Right now, though, here’s what went well in the loss.
Adou Thiero’s Statement Game
After missing more than a month of games, Adou Thiero reinserted himself into the lineup two weeks ago, starting in four of five games, including Gonzaga. On Saturday, Thiero played a starring role in the loss, scoring 15 points, one shy of his career-high against Kansas earlier this season. He nearly set a new career mark if only that alley-oop at the end of the game had connected. Still, Thiero led Kentucky in energy and matched a couple of teammates for a team-best five rebounds. Three big blocks and a steal, too. Thiero played well and almost played hero. “Adou The Hero” could’ve been a headline.
Reed Sheppard Put The Team On His Back
Kentucky’s second-half run gave the team and the Big Blue Nation life when Gonzaga had led most of the game. Reed Sheppard was a big part of it. First, two second-chance dunks sparked the run, one by Aaron Bradshaw and another by Thiero, cleaning up Sheppard’s high miss off the glass over two outstretched defenders. Then, Sheppard rebounded a long Gonzaga miss and pushed the ball all the way into the paint, only to kick it back out to Antonio Reeves for an open 3-pointer. ‘Tone don’t miss those. It gave Kentucky its first lead since the score was 2-0.
Mark Few’s timeout couldn’t cool the Cats. Out of the 30-second break, Sheppard intercepted an inbounds pass and took it the other way for an uncontested layup. Then, Sheppard grabbed another defensive rebound and, with the team on his back, took Graham Ike off the dribble for a tough finish and a foul, Ike’s third. Sheppard made the free throw, completing the and-1 and Kentucky’s 12-0 second-half run.
Sheppard finished with a team-high 21 points.
Calipari Has No Other Choice But To Try Small Again
We’re staying positive! Kentucky’s post defense was so bad (sorry) that Calipari must consider returning to small ball when everyone is healthy again. Remember when Kentucky was up 12 on No. 1 Kansas? It was before the three seven-footers, who we love, were available. Kentucky had to run and gun, with Tre Mitchell playing the small-ball 5. It’s not the solution to the current problems, but it’s worth a shot when Mitchell is healthy, even for a few minutes. Run and shoot. There shouldn’t be another game when Antonio Reeves attempts only two 3-pointers like he did against Gonzaga. Sheppard and Rob Dillingham took only three apiece. Those are three guys ranked in the top 25 all-time in 3-point percentage at Kentucky, combining for eight attempts. Unclog the offense if the defense can’t rebound or get stops anyway.
DJ Wagner Was Close Enough To Try
DJ Wagner‘s appearance in the game was brief yet meaningful. UK’s point guard with a bad ankle played 13 minutes, mainly before halftime, when it was unclear if he would give it a go at all. Hopefully, he’s close to taking on more responsibilities because the team needs him back.
Justin Edwards Took Another Step Forward
Justin Edwards is trying to break through. He had several moments pushing him in that direction against Gonzaga, none bigger than his defensive stand to give Kentucky a shot in the end. After appearing to injure his leg, a hobbled Edwards got stuck guarding Nolan Hickman, who drove around Edwards toward the basket with 14 seconds to go, Gonzaga up two. Edwards recovered and got his hand on top of the ball to pin Hickman as he left his feet, forcing a jump ball and a Gonzaga turnover. Before the defensive stand, Edwards scored eight points with five rebounds and two steals in the loss.
Rupp Arena Brought It Again
The fan base did its part on Saturday. Rupp Arena was rocking, just as it was for the Florida and Tennessee games. John Calipari thanked the ones who stayed afterward, asking everyone to “stick with us” as the Cats try to climb out of a February hole. They’re back home Tuesday night with four losses in a row on the table. Kentucky will need full support again.