Two of the best offenses in the country met at Rupp Arena on Tuesday night.
Only one lived up to the billing.
No. 12 Kentucky steamrolled No. 8 Miami, 95-73 in a matchup of two teams that entered Tuesday averaging better than 89 points per game. Kentucky's offense was dynamic and aggressive with a multitude of scorers getting buckets in the paint and from beyond the 3-point line.
Its defense, meanwhile, shut down options for a Miami team that entered Tuesday as the nation's best from 3-point distance (45.8%). There were no easy looks for the Hurricanes in Lexington. It was a dominant effort against a top-10 team, the kind that announces Final Four intentions.
Kentucky's freshmen shine
Kentucky cruised with an eight-man rotation featuring heavy minutes from five freshmen. Five players scored in double figures in a balanced effort that saw the Wildcats shoot 59.7% from the field and 42.9% from 3-point distance. A young team that looked strong in a five-point loss to then-No. 1 Kansas on Nov. 15 is playing at another level four games later.
Justin Edwards, a projected NBA lottery pick and the prize of No. 1-ranked recruiting class, played perhaps his best game as a Wildcat while shooting 5 of 7 from the field in an 11-point, three-rebound effort. An athletic scorer who can shoot and attack the basket, he was fearless in attacking Miami.
Justin Edwards has some words for somebody who can't guard him. pic.twitter.com/98eTO20EZp
— Rare Rookies #BBN (@rarerookies) November 29, 2023
Senior Antonio Reeves led Kentucky's starters with 18 points and five rebounds. Fellow senior Tre Mitchell added 14 points, seven assists and five rebounds, joining Reeves as the veteran contingent in the starting lineup.
But it was freshman Reed Sheppard who shone brightest in a breakout game on a national stage. The sharpshooter scored 21 points off the bench while shooting 8 of 13 from the field and 5 of 9 from 3-point distance. He added five rebounds, four assists and three steals.
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) November 29, 2023
The Wildcats as a team assisted on 26 of their 37 made field goals.
For Miami, junior Wooga Poplar posted 19 points and eight rebounds. Preseason All-ACC pick Norchad Omier tallied 20 points and six rebounds and sparked an 18-2 Miami run in the first half that gave the Hurricanes a 29-23 lead.
But the Wildcats answered. They finished the half on a 19-8 run to take a 42-37 lead into halftime. Then they blew the game open with a 10-0 run to extend the lead to 54-39. Miami never recovered.
A Hurricanes team that entered Sunday averaging 10.8 made 3-pointers per game shot 5 of 19 (26.3%) from distance against a Wildcats defense intent on thwarting a comeback. Miami tallied a fraction of Kentucky's assist total with eight on 26 made field goals.
For the Wildcats, it added up to the kind of effort normally seen from veteran-laden teams this time of year, not a group of mostly freshmen learning to play together. And they project to only get better with the anticipated addition of five-star 7-foot freshman Aaron Bradshaw, who's been sidelined with a foot injury. He's joined practice in full and expects to make his Kentucky debut soon.
It's an ideal start for a 6-1 Kentucky team and a head coach in John Calipari who's under pressure to produce NCAA tournament success. The Wildcats have flamed out the past three seasons with two first-weekend exits and a failure to make the tournament in a nine-win 2020-21 campaign.
This November win won't mean much if it's not eventually followed up with March success. But Kentucky fans have to like what they see early on.