The Cats clinch their first NCAA Tournament win since 2019 thanks to a historic performance by Oscar Tshiebwe.
The Kentucky Wildcats defeated the Providence Friars 61-53 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night.
The Cats started off a little slow, but they were clearly willing to start this one. Jacob Toppin asserted himself offensively early on as Oscar Tshiebwe dominated the boards and Antonio Reeves exploded late en route to a 38-32 half-time lead.
After the break, this game went downhill quickly. Halfway through the second half, both teams took 15 points combined.
However, the Cats managed to tuck it away behind dominant performances from Oscar Tshiebwe and Antonio Reeves.
The monkey is off their backs, as the Cats earned their first NCAA Tournament win since 2019. They play against the winners of Kansas State and Montana State again on Sunday.
Kentucky was unable to warm up due to a faulty rim that also plagued the Iowa State Cyclones in the game before.
Meanwhile, the Friars had no problem getting shots.
This is an incredible problem that occurred on college basketball’s biggest stage. Iowa State had to request a stoppage due to rim problems en route to shooting 23.3% from the field.
These were the rims Kentucky shot at in the first half, and they ended up getting a brutal 1/8 shooting start.
Fortunately, the Cats warmed up and scored 38 points on 46% shooting from the field and 40% from the depth.
Wheeler stays outside
Sahvir Wheeler was expected to play in this one after a whole week of practice, but he didn’t take the floor in this one.
John Calipari announced before the game that Wheeler was only 70-75% and would not play. Speculation has been circulating for several weeks that Wheeler played his last game in a Kentucky uniform, and it feels more likely by the day.
Wheeler has not played since February 4. He suspiciously missed Senior Day due to tailbone surgery after being out with an ankle injury. Big Blue Nation questioned why the surgery had to take place that morning, but Calipari insisted he play again this season.
After supposedly practicing all week and still not playing, it seems the conspiracy theorists were right and Wheeler has played his last game for the Cats.
Oscar Tshiebwe makes history
What more can you say? Oscar. Tshiebwe. Of course, we’ve all had our issues with Tshiebwe this year. His defense was poor and the surgery clearly affected his athleticism, at least at first.
However, the reigning National Player of the Year looked like his vintage self on the glass. With a Kentucky NCAA Tournament record 25 rebounds, Big O also became the first player in Kentucky basketball history to have multiple 15+ rebound games in the tournament. The man refused to lose again in the first round after last year’s debacle.
Tshiebwe seemingly grabbed every rebound in the first half in an absolutely insane performance. He didn’t do much on the attacking side, but it wasn’t necessary.
Oscar Tshiebwe has now tasted NCAA Tournament success!
Antonio Reeves is the straw that stirs this Big Blue drink. The Cats go as Reeves goes, and he went far in this one, scoring a game-high 22 points to go with three boards. He also hit a huge two-pointer in the final minutes to ensure Kentucky held the lead for good.
Reeves has been the staple of Kentucky’s offense all season, proving once again that Kentucky’s success depends on his scoring.
The attack was not pretty, but Reeves was again the bright spot in a huge performance.
Bonus: The East Region is wide open.
Because top-seeded Purdue just lost to 16-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson.
Just keep winning! Go cats!