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Freshmen class rolling as No. 9 Kentucky visits Louisville


No. 9 Kentucky will look to make it three straight wins when it visits rival Louisville on Thursday evening.

The Wildcats are coming off an impressive 87-83 win over then-No. 9 North Carolina in Atlanta on Saturday behind strong work from the freshman class.

Rob Dillingham finished with 17 points, while D.J. Wagner logged 14 points, six rebounds and five assists. Aaron Bradshaw had 12 points, and Reed Sheppard amassed 11 points and six rebounds for a Kentucky team that had eight players score at least seven points.

Dillingham hit a clutch jumper with 1:31 left to give Kentucky an 83-80 lead. After a key offensive rebound, Bradshaw was fouled and hit two free throws with 46 seconds left to give the Wildcats an 85-81 lead. Dillingham and Bradshaw again hit clutch free throws in the final seconds to put the game away.

“When they’re making plays at the end of the game to win the game, that shows you what kind of team they are,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said of his players. “The upside for this team is really up. Let’s see if we can get there.”

Antonio Reeves, Wagner, Sheppard and Dillingham headline one of the nation’s best backcourts. Reeves leads the Wildcats in scoring (17.1 points per game) and is averaging 4.5 rebounds per game. Wagner, a three-time New Jersey high school basketball player of the year, is averaging 12.8 points and 3.9 assists per game.

Sheppard, Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball in 2023, is tallying 12.8 points, 3.6 assists and 4.7 rebounds, while Dillingham is averaging 14.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and a team-high 4.5 assists. Sheppard and Dillingham provide instant offense off the bench for a team that is averaging 90.2 points per game, among the best figures in the nation.

Bradshaw combines with veteran Tre Mitchell to give Kentucky two dynamic presences in the post. The 7-foot-1 Bradshaw is averaging 10.7 points and 5.3 boards per outing, while Mitchell averages 12.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.

Following an embarrassing home loss to Arkansas State on Dec. 13, Louisville (5-6) responded with an impressive 85-63 win over Pepperdine on Sunday amid rumblings about coach Kenny Payne’s job status.

Brandon Huntley-Hatfield highlighted the victory with his second consecutive double-double (20 points, 12 rebounds). He converted 8 of 11 free-throw attempts.

Guards Skyy Clark, Mike James and Tre White have been the Cardinals’ top scorers, while Huntley-Hatfield averages 9.2 points and a team-high 9.2 rebounds per game.

Clark puts up 15.4 points per contest, while James averages 12.4 points. White ranks second to only Clark in minutes played per game and is averaging 12.8 points an outing.

The Cardinals had a season-high 17 assists and outrebounded the Waves 43-27 in arguably their best performance of the season.

“This was a good win for us in a time where there is a lot of doubt,” Payne said. “Sometimes kids play in fear of losing because they’re going to let people down. The second you do that, it is hard to win. I want them to play free, play together and have fun.”

–Field Level Media

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