Cats celebrate seniors, complete sweep of Vandy

Published 2:26 pm Thursday, March 7, 2024

Kentucky celebrated Senior Night by completing a regular-season sweep of Vanderbilt with a 93-77 win Wednesday night.

The Wildcats (22-8, 12-5 Southeastern Conference) carry a four-game winning streak into Saturday’s showdown at No. 4 Tennessee in Knoxville.

The Volunteers clinched the regular-season conference crown with a 66-59 victory at South Carolina Wednesday night. Kentucky remains in contention for a first-round bye in the conference tournament with four teams sitting at 12-5 in the league with one game remaining.

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Kentucky coach John Calipari wasn’t surprised by Vanderbilt’s fast start but liked the way his team responded.

“I knew Vandy would come out and play well, like every team we play, and that we were going to have to play well over 40 minutes and we could get them,” he said. “Vandy came out and tried to throw some zone at us. They did some different things. I thought we responded.”

Prior to tipoff, the Wildcats honored seniors Tre Mitchell, Antonio Reeves and Kareem Watkins prior to tipoff. Brennan Canada, a fifth-year senior, was honored last year in the home finale against the Commodores. Watkins started for the Wildcats and grabbed a rebound before sitting out the remainder of the contest.

Reeves finished with 20 points and scored 11 of those in the first half. His lone 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Wildcats a 45-40 lead at the half. It marked the sixth straight time Reeves has scored 20 or more points.

“He has lived in the gym,” Calipari said. “When he misses, he is stunned. … The guy is putting up shots and sometimes you just have to show up every day, even if you’re at your best, you show up and he does.”

Reeves said he’s grateful for his consistent production but doesn’t set out to accomplish the feat on a game-by-game basis.

“I don’t even think about that, to be honest, I just go out and just play basketball,” he said. “I stay in aggressive mode.”

Kentucky’s last four field goals of the half — all 3-pointers by Reed Sheppard, Rob Dillingham and Reeves — gave the Wildcats the momentum they needed to create a degree of separation.

While Reeves carried the load in the opening half, the freshman class, anchored by Dillingham and Justin Edwards, picked up the pace in the final 20 minutes. Dillingham led the Wildcats with 23 points, followed by D.J. Wagner with 11 and Edwards with 10.

Edwards scored three straight baskets, including a pair of three-pointers, in the first five minutes of the second half. Sheppard just missed a double-double with eight points and 11 assists, matching a career-high.

The Commodores (8-22, 3-14) led by six twice in the opening half before the Wildcats pulled away in the second half to hand Vandy its fifth loss in the past six games.

Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse, whose Commodores stunned the Wildcats to end the regular season and ousted Kentucky from the SEC Tournament last year, was impressed with the Wildcats.

“Kentucky’s a really, really good, talented offensive team,” he said. “The best that I’ve seen, I think, since, I’ve been here. … Tough team I think is primed for a big run this year.”