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CATS Crash Out of Tourney

photo by Danny Vaughn

Kansas State defeats Kentucky 75-69 ending the season in opening weekend of NCAA tournament. Oscar Tshiebwe has monster game in potentially last game as a Wildcat finishing the game with 25 points, 18 rebounds.  Cason Wallace finished the game with 21 points, Chris Livingston adds eleven points.

GREENSBORO – March 19, 2023 – DAVID LEVERIDGE- Bluegrass Sports Nation.

Kentucky and Kansas State in the second round of the NCAA tournament was an incredible game as both teams continued to fight and neither team could create separation from the other team until the closing minutes of the game.  Unfortunately for Kentucky Kansas State increased their lead to five points late in the game after KSU made back to back three point baskets.  This was KSU largest lead of the game and come at a critical time late in the game with Kentucky unable to comeback. 

Leading up to the final minutes of regulation there were three primary factors that contributed to a KSU victory.  The first factor in todays game was a poor shooting night from starters Jacob Toppin and Antonio Reeves.  Secondly Turnovers hurt Kentucky chances as KSU won the turnover battle, which lead to easy transition baskets.  The Third factor in todays contest was poor defense played by Kentucky and allowed the KSU guards to get hot from behind the arc.

Poor Shooting from Jacob Toppin and Antonio Reeves.  In the opening round of the tournament Reeves and Toppin were spectacular combining for forty points and five made 3 PT FG.  In today’s game against Kansas State both players struggled to score only combining for seven points.  Reeves was scoreless until the final minute of regulation and Toppin was plagued with foul trouble and struggled to guard KSU Forward Keyontae Johnson. Reeves has been Kentucky’s best scorer the last month of the season but a cold shooting night, occurred at the worst time for Kentucky.  Toppin after dealing with depression issues earlier in the year, was also one of the CATS best players as the season progressed, tonight he was off and played one of his worst games of the season.

Turnovers. When it comes to March Madness and the NCAA tournament which team that commits the fewer turnovers usually win the game. Today Kentucky become turnover prone with a combined sixteen turnovers compared to only ten by KSU.  Turn overs hurt Kentucky as KSU scored twenty points on the fast break, compared to only 8 fast break points by Kentucky.  Oscar Tshiebwe was double teamed in the post committing five turnovers, and Point Guard Cason Wallace also committed five.

Defense. Kansas State is a talented team and very capable of making a deep run in the tournament, Today though KSU shot the ball exceptionally well.  Kentucky could not contain Marquis Nowell scored a game high twenty seven points and nine assists while making three critical three point baskets late in the game.  Nowell is a smaller guard standing 5’8”.  Nowell was the difference for Kansas State as the Wildcats had no answer guarding him.  In the second half alone KSU shot 56% from the field, compared to 30% for Kentucky.  KSU also made 55% of their 3 PT FG in the second half, while going 13-14 from the Free throw line.

Game Summary 1st Half:  From the opening tip KSU and UK was an incredible game to watch as teams traded baskets for most of the game.  Kentucky’s offense revolved around getting Tshiebwe the ball in the post and letting Oscar work on the smaller defenders.  Kentucky had success getting Tshiebwe the ball and the talented center kept possessions alive with his rebounding efforts.  Kentucky had developed an early lead of 17-9 as the Big Blue Nation come alive chanting Go Big Blue!  KSU adjusted their game plan, double teaming the post and aggressive on defense.  Kansas State scored the next six points. Chris Livingston responded with a two hand dunk driving to the lane and Kentucky increased the lead to five points Kentucky 22- Kansas State 17.  Kansas State finished the half with a twelve to four run completed by a lob dunk near the end of the half by KSU Nae’Quan Tomlin.  At intermission Kansas State led Kentucky 29-26.  

Second Half. Kentucky opened the half with a nine to two run and looked to create some separation between the two teams.  Cason Wallace was spectacular during this stretch scoring at will and created a mismatch against the smaller defender Nowell.  Kentucky 35-Kansas State 31. Nowell tied the game at thirty- nine with his first of many three point baskets in the half.  Livingston responded with a slam dunk after catching the ball on the rebound.  The next few minutes the teams continued to trade baskets and neither team could create separation of more than three points either way, creating an exciting environment as fans on both sides were loud and passionate.  In the closing minutes of the game Kentucky had a slim one- point lead UK 62- KSU 61 when KSU made a six- point run and gave KSU a five- point lead with under two minutes to play in the game.  KSU got hot making consecutive baskets that was a dagger to the Kentucky team and created separation late in the game. Kentucky attempted a comeback and cut the lead to four points in the closing seconds, but the 3Pt baskets hit a few minutes earlier was to much to over come as Kansas State escaped Greensboro with a 75-69 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats.

Kentucky’s season is now over as the Wildcats finish the season with an overall record of 22 wins and 12 losses.  Kentucky was a preseason top five team in the country with the reigning National Player of the year returning Oscar Tshiebwe and expectations were to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament and compete not only for a Final 4, but to win a National Championship.  Those expectations subdued as the season progressed and at one point Kentucky was in jeopardy of not making the tournament.  Kentucky has not made the second weekend of the tournament the Sweet 16 or the Elite 8 since the 2018- 2019 season and now makes 4 years since the CATS have made the Sweet 16.  Kentucky fans have become disappointed, and Coach Calipari has become criticized more than normal, as Kentucky continues to underperform and not live up to expectations.

Entering the offseason, many questions surround the Kentucky Basketball team. Six seniors Oscar Tshiebwe, Antonio Reeves, CJ Frederick, Sahveer Wheeler, Jacob Toppin and walk on Brennan Canada have important decisions to make and each could return to college due to the Covid 19 Pandemic.  After the game media was allowed locker room access and each player was at a loss for words teary eyed as players tried to answer media questions about the season and the next phase of their careers.  One player Oscar Tshiebwe was speechless setting beside team mate Lance Ware with his head down away from reporters, as this was a very emotional moment and Tshiebwe realized this may be his last game as a Wildcat and wanted to do something special this year, but failed to take his team out of the opening weekend in each of his two seasons.

 Stats Game Stats.

  • Kentucky 69                       Kansas State 75.
  • FG % game 41.3 %            48.1 %
  • 3 PT FG game 4-20 20 %   5-21 23.8%
  • FT 13-17 76.5%                 18-22 81.8 %
  • Rebounds 44                       25
  • Assists 12                            14
  • Turnovers 15                      14
  • Fast Break Points   20          8.

Player Stats Kentucky.

  • Jacob Toppin 2 points, four rebounds, five fouls,
  • Chris Livingston 11 points, seven rebounds,
  • Oscar Tshiebwe 25 points, eighteen rebounds,
  • Antonio Reeves 5 points, 3 rebounds.
  • Cason Wallace 21 points, nine rebounds.

Player Stats Kansas State.

  • Key Vontae Johnson 13 points, 4 rebounds.
  • Newman Tomlin  12 points, 6 rebounds
  • Marquis Nowell 27 points, two rebounds, nine assists.

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