Kentucky’s tournament hopes fade with loss to Dawgs

Published 1:45 pm Monday, February 13, 2023

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Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament hopes keep fading away.

The Wildcats failed to complete a regular-season sweep of Georgia on Saturday with a 75-68 loss to the Bulldogs in Athens. Kentucky defeated Georgia 85-71 on Jan. 17 at Rupp Arena, but the Bulldogs turned the tables in a rematch between the two Southeastern Conference foes.

With six regular-season games remaining, Kentucky is scrambling to build momentum for the postseason. Three of the final six games are against ranked foes, including home games against Auburn and Tennessee and a road game at Arkansas.

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Kentucky had won its three previous road games, while Georgia (15-10, 5-7) snapped a three-game losing streak on a day when it honored its 1983 NCAA Final Four squad. It was the first time the Wildcats had lost back-to-back games at Stegman Coliseum since the 1989-90 seasons.

Playing without seniors Sahvir Wheeler (ankle) and CJ Fredrick (ribs), Kentucky struggled and led just once, while SEC Freshman of the Week Cason Wallace managed just five points. Wallace tallied his first bucket on a breakaway slam with 52 seconds remaining and missed all four of his attempts from behind the arc.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said there were too many missed opportunities.

“Like we were playing basically without a point guard. But the second half, you know, I liked what I saw,” he said. “But again, the guys that had to make some daggers missed every shot didn’t get a basket until there was three minutes in the game. Think about that. You have an opportunity to throw the dagger, and whether you don’t shoot it, whatever it may be.”

Antiono Reeves and Oscar Tshiebwe carried the load for the Wildcats in the disappointing loss. Reeves scored 15 of his team’s 32 points in the opening half. The senior guard also made four of Kentucky’s seven shots from long range.

Tshiebwe, who had 37 points and grabbed 24 rebounds against Georgia earlier this month, had a double-double with 20 points and 14 rebounds. He did most of his scoring in the second half with 14 points. He scored eight of his team’s first 12 points of the second half.

Georgia got 21 points from Kario Oquendo, who knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to close out the first half. The Bulldogs made 25 of 29 free throws, while the Wildcats were 12 of 14 from the charity stripe.

“We got a good team. Now we’re gonna have to pull it together, and you know my job is to keep letting them know I believe in them, but they’re going to have to do some things here now,” Calipari said.