Even with some mistakes, Reed Sheppard was UK's best player against UNC-Wilmington

On3 imageby:Zack Geoghegan12/02/23


Reed Sheppard did all he could to keep Kentucky in the game against UNC-Wilmington. The freshman guard finished with team-highs in minutes (39), points (25), rebounds (nine), and assists (six) to go along with a pair of steals. He shot an efficient 9-17 from the field and accounted for 60 percent of the Wildcats’ made three-pointers (3-6) while also making all four of his free throws.

Sheppard was essential for Kentucky in the second half, when he scored 18 of his points. He assisted on three straight field goals for the ‘Cats before making two freebies that trimmed an eight-point UNC-Wilmington lead down to just two. Without Sheppard, who started for the first time all season in place of the injured DJ Wagner, Kentucky likely loses to the Seahawks by plenty more than the 80-73 final score.

It’s not a stretch by any means to say that Sheppard is Kentucky’s best player right now. He’s averaging 13.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 3.0 steals in only 26.6 minutes per outing. His shooting splits are even more impressive: 61.9 percent overall, 61.1 percent from deep, and a perfect 11-11 from the free-throw line. He’s been mostly steady and reliable.

All this being said, Sheppard was not perfect on Saturday, particularly in the first half — something head coach John Calipari pointed out during his postgame press conference. Sheppard made some poor decisions with the ball that led to a couple of bad turnovers in quick succession, the first being a one-handed, crosscourt pass that went right to a Seahawk defender before reaching his intended target. He finished the game with three turnovers, tying his season-high.

“There was a play where there was a guy straight ahead, our best three-point shooter (Antonio Reeves). And I had a guy (Sheppard) try to throw a crosscourt bounce pass, and that guy was standing right there with no one on him,” Calipari explained postgame. “Literally, the only guy between — it was just — but there were other plays the same way.”

To Sheppard’s defense, there were times he made a mistake or missed a shot, but would immediately respond by running hard back on defense. There was even one instance where Sheppard missed a layup, which sparked a UNC-Wilmington fastbreak. Instead of hanging his head, he sprinted to the other end of the floor and immediately forced a steal to get his team the ball back.

But Sheppard himself couldn’t care less about how he performed individually on Saturday, especially since the end result was still a loss.

“It was a tough game, tough loss. I don’t really care how I played,” Sheppard said postgame. “Anytime you lose a game I don’t think that matters. I don’t like losing. I don’t like losing at all. But you’ve got to give a lot of credit to them. They came out and played a great game.”

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