Reeves scores 37 to carry Wildcats in wild win at Arkansas
Published 11:16 am Monday, March 6, 2023
Kentucky ended the regular season on a high note and secured a double-bye in the Southeastern Conference Tournament with an 88-79 road win over Arkansas as Antonio Reeves scored a career-high 37 points.
The No. 23 Wildcats (21-10, 12-6) will be the No. 3 seed in the league tournament that begins Wednesday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Kentucky will play its first game in the tourney at 9 p.m. Friday in the quarterfinals.
“From this point through the conference tournament, we have to understand how we got to play, fight, execute,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
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Arkansas (19-12, 8-10) defeated the Wildcats 88-73 on Feb. 2 in Lexington, but Kentucky returned the favor and ended a three-game losing streak to the Razorbacks.
Coming off a disappointing 68-66 loss to Vanderbilt in their home finale Wednesday night, the Wildcats survived without its two point guards, Cason Wallace (ankle) and Sahvir Wheeler (ankle).
Wallace injured his ankle in the loss to the Commodores on Wednesday night and is listed as day-to-day going into the postseason. Wheeler is expected to miss at least two weeks after undergoing an undisclosed minor procedure Wednesday.
Using a makeshift lineup in the backcourt, Reeves carried the load. He missed just five field goals on 17 attempts and made all 11 of his shots from the free-throw line. Reeves scored his team’s first 11 points of the second half and tallied 22 in the final 20 minutes.
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said his team had trouble finishing inside but praised Reeves’ play.
“Obviously tonight, 2 for 20 around the rim, you’re not going to win a lot of games,” Musselman said. “What happened tonight is Reeves stepped into the point guard position and had 37 points. He played as good as any player I’ve seen since I’ve been coaching at Arkansas.”
Reeves, Jacob Toppin and Oscar Tshiebwe, combined for 70 of Kentucky’s 88 points. Jacob Toppin followed Reeves with 21 points, and his two clutch 3-pointers came in the final eight minutes. Tshiebwe had 12 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out with 4:53 remaining in a contest that featured 52 fouls, which included three technical fouls and two flagrant calls.
Toppin, who took the blame for the loss to Vanderbilt, bounced back in a big way. He had to do a lot of the ballhandling with the lineup short on guards.
“One of the things i said (to Toppin), you may have to call the offense,” Calipari said. “We’ve got guards who have not been a point guard.
“He should not have taken any blame for that loss (against Vanderbilt). I wasn’t as loose as I was this game. So I may have been feeling it too.”
Kentucky reserve Daimion Collins also fouled out but provided some huge plays, while Reeves and Chris Livingston finished the game with four fouls each.
“I thought we needed a bigger game from Chris (Livingston),” Calipari said. “But he’s fighting and doing things he needs to do.” Livingston collected nine rebounds, although scoring only one point.
Arkansas, which carries a three-game losing streak into the postseason, got 25 points from Nick Smith Jr. and 14 more from Anthony Black.
Calipari said everything is aimed and building toward the NCAA tournament in how players approach and play the game.
“Here’s what i said to the guys,” he said. “At this time of the year, you’re trying to make sure your establishing how you’re playing in the NCAA tournament. Did you execute? Did everybody come to play? Did you fight? Did you get rebounds? Did everybody make free throws?”
The regular season is behind them, and the Cats, who won five of the last six, can rest and heal until Friday’s game in Nashville.