Freshmen lead UK to signature win over Heels

Published 11:07 am Monday, December 18, 2023

By Keith Taylor

Kentucky Today

Kentucky picked up its second signature win of the season with an 87-83 victory over No. 9 North Carolina Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.

Kentucky (8-2) has won two straight since an 80-73 loss to UNC-Wilmington on Dec. 2. The Wildcats also have won two of its three games against Top-10 foes this season. The Wildcats defeated then-No. 8 Miami 95-73 in the ACC-SEC Challenge on Nov. 28 but lost to then-No. 1 Kansas 89-84 in the State Farm Champions Classic in Chicago on Nov. 14.

“That (was) a veteran team that came in with one idea: they were going to be physical with us,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “That’s what they did. You know what, we held our own.

“This is a group of young talented basketball players that are still learning. We’re not near where we should be or where we will be, but I’m kind of liking where we are at this stage of the season. But now it’s time to say, okay, let’s go. (They are) a really smart team, too. Like really smart.”

In his third game back since returning from a foot injury, Aaron Bradshaw made three free throws in the final 46 seconds to help the Wildcats hold off the Tar Heels, who led just once in the contest. Bradshaw finished with 12 points as four Kentucky players finished in double figures.

Rob Dillingham led the Wildcats with 17 points and scored four of those during a 6-0 Kentucky run after the Tar Heels (7-3) took their lone lead of the game at 72-71 with five minutes remaining. The spurt created enough spacing for the Wildcats down the stretch.

D.J. Wagner had 14 points and Reed Sheppard finished with 11 points and added six rebounds. Led by Dillingham, Kentucky’s freshmen — Dillingham, Bradshaw, Wagner, Sheppard and Justin Edwards — combined for 62 points.

“They have a number of players that can create their own shot in one-on-one situations, and so from a defensive standpoint and the way that we play defense, they had to make some tough shots, one-on-one against us, and specifically down the stretch they were able to do so,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said.

Kentucky leading scorer Antonio Reeves scored a season-low nine points and didn’t score his first basket – a 3-pointer – until the 16:33 mark of the second half.

The Wildcats evened their record at 5-5 in the event and have posted four of those victories over North Carolina. In the opener, Ohio State defeated UCLA 67-60.

Davis fell to 0-2 against the Wildcats. The Tar Heels were led by RJ Davis, who finished with 27 points.

Kentucky sophomore Ugona Onyenso made his first appearance of the season, returning from a foot injury. Onyenso entered the lineup at the 13:04 mark of the first half.

The 7-foot center played 10 minutes, scored one point, grabbed a rebound and had three blocks.

“How about Ugonna?” Calipari said. “He just started practicing. He got the flu and could not travel with us. Flew in this morning, went to the shootaround, had to do what? Went in the bathroom. I can’t play him. He said, ‘I’m going to be fine.’ He helped us.”

Overall, Kentucky had nine blocks, including four by Adou Thiero.