Kentucky bounces back from terribly slow start, blows out well-traveled Bellarmine

Silas Walker/swalker@herald-leader.com

Anyone who couldn’t figure out how to access SEC Network Plus on Tuesday night likely ended up finding a better use of two hours.

Kentucky finally put away Bellarmine with a second-half flurry, beating the visiting Knights, 60-41, in Rupp Arena.

The first 20 minutes were often painful, especially for fans of offense. At the 11:00 mark, Kentucky had more turnovers (seven) than points (six). Neither team managed to string together three consecutive made baskets until the Wildcats finally achieved the feat with 3:31 left in the half. At that point, Bellarmine was 4-for-18 from the floor.

The halftime score: Cats 21, Knights 21. UK shot 30 percent from the field, slightly better than Bellarmine’s 29-percent showing. The two teams combined to go 5-for-25 from three-point range. And those 21 points for the Wildcats were the lowest halftime total in Rupp Arena since 2006. Oscar Tshiebwe was UK’s leading scorer at the break. He had six points.

Things went from bad to worse for Kentucky in the opening minutes of the second half, with Bellarmine taking a 32-28 lead before the first TV timeout of the period.

Perhaps sensing that the upset might actually happen — or maybe just looking for something to do — the Rupp Arena fans got into it from there, cheering loudly every time the Cats were on the defensive end. UK matched the intensity from there, turning the 32-28 deficit into a 39-32 advantage with an 11-0 run bookended by three-pointers from Antonio Reeves and CJ Fredrick, with five made free throws in between.

Following a Bellarmine three, Kentucky ran off a 12-0 run to up its lead to 51-35 with 5:55 remaining, and the Cats finished it out from there.

The Knights arrived in Lexington off a pair of 21-point losses to Loyola Marymount and UCLA on the west coast over the weekend. Bellarmine defeated Louisville, 67-66, in the season opener, but the Knights have gone 0-6 against Division I competition since, with additional losses at Morehead State, Clemson and Duke. All seven of Bellarmine’s games against Division I teams this season have been on the road.

Reeves led the Wildcats with 18 points, adding five rebounds and going 3-for-6 from three-point range. Jacob Toppin added 12 points, all in the second half. Fredrick was the only other UK player in double figures with 11 points (3-for-7 from deep). Tshiebwe added eight points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.

Kentucky’s next game

The Cats are scheduled to depart for England on Wednesday for the program’s first regular-season game in Europe — a matchup with the Michigan Wolverines in London set for Sunday.

Michigan had a 5-1 record heading into a late-night home game against No. 3 Virginia on Tuesday, though the Wolverines lost by 25 points against an unranked Arizona State team earlier in the season. Mostly as a result of that loss, Michigan dropped out of the preseason Top 25 and is now seventh on the “also receiving votes” list, making U-M the No. 32 team in the country.

The Wolverines are led by center Hunter Dickinson, a preseason All-American candidate who should pose a good test for Oscar Tshiebwe and the Wildcats in the paint Sunday.

The Kentucky-Michigan game is set for 1 p.m. and will be shown nationally on ABC. The game will take place at 6 p.m. London time in the O2 Arena.

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