Bryce Hopkins’ performance against LSU validates UK’s title contender status


Kentucky Wildcats forward Bryce Hopkins (23) celebrates after giving his team the lead during the UK vs. Louisiana State University mens basketball game on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 71-66. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Cole Parke

Kentucky freshman Bryce Hopkins had a career game on Wednesday, boosting the Cats to a 71-66 win over LSU, further validating UK’s status as a National Championship contender.

Hopkins scored a career-high 13 points in the win, with 11 of those points coming during a 15-2 run by the Cats that gave Kentucky a lead that it ultimately never lost.

Nine of Hopkins’ points came during an 11-0 UK run, with graduate student Davion Mintz being the only other Cat to score during the period.

“I think I played a good game today,” Hopkins said. “I saw in the first half that we were playing a little slow, so in the second half coach was saying we needed more energy. That’s what I tried to do when I came into the game. I just tried to bring energy and contribute however I could.”

Playing for 15 minutes, Hopkins became the 10th Wildcat this season to secure double-digit points in a game, and the third and final freshman to accomplish the feat.

In boosting UK to victory, Hopkins maintained his perfect record as the team improved to 15-0 in games that he scored.

“I think we’re going to need Bryce for an NCAA Tournament run,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “He’s practiced, he’s being coached, he’s coming in the gym and spending extra time. Since day one he was behind some guys but he fought it.”

Hopkins, like most of Kentucky’s roster entering the season, accepted his role on the team early on, even knowing that it meant he likely wouldn’t see the ball very often this season.

“That’s one thing coach always tells us: wait for your opportunity,” he said. “Today was mine and I just took advantage of that. I was staying in the gym, just kept working on my game and today was the day I finally broke through.”

Hopkins’ performance in the win over LSU continues to prove how dangerous Kentucky is as a team this season, forcing opposing teams to do their homework with due diligence before taking on the Wildcats.

“That’s been a problem for us, letting guys down the scouting report hurt us,” LSU head coach Will Wade said after the loss. “[Hopkins] certainly did that. He had a couple mid-range [shots], he got going on the offensive glass, we fouled him, and he made his free throws, which was a killer.”

Hopkins continues to make the team stronger not just with his on the court performance, but perhaps in the locker room as well, as teammates celebrated the young star’s game as though he’d just won them the championship.

“I’m so proud of Bryce,” Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe said. “You don’t even know how proud we are of him. We are all cheering for him. For him to come out like that and knock down some buckets, it really helped us. I told him, ‘This is your opportunity to show what you can do, and whatever you do, you’re forcing coach to play you more’.  I’m so proud of him.”

Hopkins made sure it was known that the support from his teammates was not just appreciated, but reciprocated as well, with him celebrating his teammates success in prior games to the same degree as they celebrated his.

“We’re a brotherhood and a family here,” Hopkins said. “We’re all excited for each other whenever somebody goes in and does well. I mean, seeing Damion [Collins] go out there against Alabama – I was very proud of him. Tonight, my guys were proud of me.”

With just three games left in the regular season, Kentucky will be looking to players like Hopkins to step up when the time comes as injuries continue to hinder the championship hopefuls.

In beating LSU, UK has earned a double-bye in the SEC tournament, giving viewers hope that the team will be healthy come tournament time.

In the meantime, the Cats travel to Fayetteville, Arkansas on Saturday, Feb. 26, to challenge the Arkansas Razorbacks in UK’s final ranked matchup of the regular season. The game against Arkansas is currently scheduled to tip-off at 2 p.m. and will air live on CBS.