Red-hot Kentucky runs No. 8 Miami out of Rupp Arena with another offensive explosion

A battle of top-15 teams — boasting two of the best offenses in college basketball — did not disappoint Tuesday night in Lexington.

No. 12 Kentucky defeated No. 8 Miami 95-73, giving the Wildcats an emphatic victory in the first game of the ACC/SEC Challenge in front of a raucous Rupp Arena crowd that watched John Calipari’s young team earn its first major win of the 2023-24 season.

UK freshman Reed Sheppard had another night to remember, going 5-for-9 from 3-point range and finishing with 21 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals in another all-star appearance off the Wildcats’ bench. The Rupp fans, of course, cheered wildly after every big play from the Kentucky kid.

The Cats turned a five-point halftime lead into an absolute rout over the first several minutes of the second half. UK led by 15 points less than three minutes into the period, and Sheppard’s 3-pointer with 12:11 remaining put the Wildcats up 26 points on visiting Miami.

The Hurricanes never got closer than 22 points after that.

Antonio Reeves scored 18 points; Tre Mitchell tallied 14 points, five rebounds and seven assists; Rob Dillingham logged 12 points and nine assists; and Justin Edwards had 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting.

UK outscored Miami 53-36 after halftime.

Before the second-half flurry, the Cats and Canes traded baskets early and often.

Miami made its first four shots of the night, a stat befitting a team that came into town averaging 89.0 points per game. Kentucky roared back to take a 21-11 point lead before the second TV timeout, typical of a squad that has started games slow this season but averaged 94.3 points over its first six contests. When Miami was forced to call a timeout at that point, the Rupp crowd exploded — the loudest it had been all season by a long shot.

And it was on from there.

Miami fought back to take a 29-23 lead not long after that and held the advantage until the Wildcats ended the first half with a flurry. UK turned an 8-0 run to end the period into a 42-37 halftime advantage.

Even with starting point guard D.J. Wagner sidelined — he left the game after falling hard to the court late in the first half and was ruled out for the rest of the night — the Wildcats kept on rolling. From Edwards’ go-ahead dunk with 1:21 left in the first half through a Dillingham 3-pointer midway through the second, UK made 18 of 20 shots and outscored the Hurricanes 45-18, effectively putting away eighth-ranked Miami.

Sheppard started the second half in Wagner’s place.

The offensive explosion came just four days after UK defeated Marshall 118-82, setting a new record for most points by a Kentucky team in Calipari’s 15 seasons as head coach.

Kentucky improved to 6-1 on the season, the lone blemish an 89-84 loss to then-No. 1-ranked Kansas in the Champions Classic just eight days after the season began. The young Cats had a tough time closing out the veteran Jayhawks late in that game. Against Miami, the final outcome was never in question at the end.

Update on the 7-footers

All three of Kentucky’s sidelined 7-footers remained out Tuesday night, but one of them is getting closer to his college basketball debut.

Aaron Bradshaw was on the Rupp Arena court about 90 minutes before tipoff to go through the team’s regular pregame shooting routine, and the 7-1 freshman showed off his ability from 3-point range while looking comfortable and moving well during the warmups. Bradshaw went through an individual workout with UK assistant coach John Welch before Friday night’s game against Marshall, but this marked the first time he had participated in the teamwide shootaround.

Bradshaw went through his first full practice with the Wildcats on Monday after joining his teammates on the court for non-contact basketball activities last week. He had been sidelined since late March with a foot injury, and he could make his UK debut as soon as Saturday’s game against UNC Wilmington.

Sophomore center Ugonna Onyenso watched the warmups from the bench and has still not returned to full practice with the team. He suffered a foot injury in July and is expected to return to practice soon.

Freshman Zvonimir Ivisic is still waiting for word from the NCAA on his amateur status. The 7-2 recruit has not practiced since last week due to illness and did not participate in pregame warmups Tuesday night, though he was in Rupp Arena for the game. Ivisic was not in the building for Friday’s game against Marshall.

Kentucky freshman Aaron Bradshaw dunks the ball in the Wildcats’ practice on Monday.
Kentucky freshman Aaron Bradshaw dunks the ball in the Wildcats’ practice on Monday.

Kentucky’s next game

The Wildcats will return to action Saturday for a matchup with UNC Wilmington, and it’ll mark their first game on the new Rupp Arena court, which is scheduled to be installed later this week after the UK volleyball team plays its final game in the building.

The Seahawks, who entered the day at No. 138 nationally in the KenPom ratings, are off to a 5-1 start, with an overtime victory over Murray State last week marking their top win so far. UNC Wilmington will play at East Carolina on Thursday night, two days before their visit to Rupp Arena.

John Calipari actually began his college playing career at UNC Wilmington before transferring to Clarion State — near his Pittsburgh-area home — after seeing little action with the Seahawks.

Saturday’s game is set for 4 p.m. on SEC Network.

Kentucky guard Rob Dillingham, center, celebrates with guard Justin Edwards (1) after the Wildcats took the lead against Miami at halftime.
Kentucky guard Rob Dillingham, center, celebrates with guard Justin Edwards (1) after the Wildcats took the lead against Miami at halftime.

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