Comeback Cats: UK wins after trailing at halftime for first time this season


Jack Weaver

Kentucky Wildcats forward Jacob Toppin (0) and guard CJ Fredrick (1) celebrate at the end of the Kentucky vs. No. 5 Tennessee mens basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023, at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee. Kentucky won 63-56. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Kentucky mens basketball earned a hard-fought 85-71 win over Georgia on Tuesday night, notching its second-consecutive conference win for the first time all season.

While there were plenty of highlights in the win, including Oscar Tshiebwe’s thrilling 37-point-24-rebound double-double that was critical in paving the way to victory, it also marked the first time this season in which Kentucky was able to claim victory after trailing at the halfway point.

Kentucky shot an abysmal 33% from the field in the first half, leading the team to enter the halfway point trailing the Bulldogs 42-34.

Tshiebwe, to his credit, had scored 14 points by the break, but the rest of the team was severely lacking in offensive production, making just 11 total shots as a team and seven total shots excluding “Big O.”

Kentucky Wildcats guard Cason Wallace (22) dribbles the ball up the court during the Kentucky vs. No. 5 Tennessee mens basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023, at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee. Kentucky won 63-56. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

The second half was a completely different story for the Cats, though, surging on offense to shooting 54% from the field and 43.9% cumulatively.

Two Wildcats recorded double-digit point totals in the second half alone, most notably Tshiebwe, who scored 23, with four Cats finishing the game with double-digit point totals.

The reigning consensus national player of the year was critical for the surge, making Kentucky’s first nine points of the half, and the first five points of the half at all, and going 8-9 from the field in the final 20.

Freshman point guard Cason Wallace also found his rhythm, scoring 11 points with five made field goals after finishing the first half with six points.

As a team, the Wildcats recorded a staggering 51 points in the second half alone, while limiting the Bulldogs to just 29 for an eventual 85-71 victory.

Heading into the game, Kentucky was 0-6 when trailing at halftime, having found themselves down at the break in every single loss of the season.

In their first loss of the season, an 86-77 double-overtime loss to Michigan State in the Champions Classic, the Wildcats trailed by just two points at the half, finding themselves down 36-34.

The team was able to out-score the Spartans 28-26 in the second half to go into overtime but was only able to muster 15 total points in extra time compared to MSU’s 24.

Moving on to Kentucky’s loss to then No. 2 Gonzaga, the Wildcats were abysmal in the first half, entering the break trailing 41-25. The team was able to battle back to almost take the lead but ultimately lost their footing at the end and were unable to overcome the deficit, losing 88-72.

Looking at the CBS Sports Classic, Kentucky once again failed to score 30 in the first half, trailing the No. 16 UCLA Bruins 35-27 after 20 minutes. Once again being outscored in the second half, the Cats were ultimately defeated 63-53.

Kentucky’s next loss came in its SEC opener against Missouri in Columbia, which saw the Cats finally score 30 in the first half of a loss again but give up 42 in the process. The Kentucky offense then surged to score 45 in the second half, but poor defending gave up 47 points for a cumulative 89-75 loss.

Kentucky Wildcats guard Sahvir Wheeler (2) dribbles towards the basket during the No. 19 Kentucky vs. Missouri mens basketball game on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Missouri. Missouri won 89-75. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

In the next loss, the throttling in Tuscaloosa at the hands of current No. 4 Alabama, Kentucky entered the break trailing 35-24 after, yet again, a poor offensive performance. Somehow the second half would be even worse for Kentucky, being outscored 43-28 for the final score of 78-52.

In UK’s most recent loss, a shocking home loss to South Carolina that ended a 28-game home winning streak, Kentucky entered the break trailing 42-32. Despite beating the Gamecocks in the second half, the 10-point hole was too much to overcome as the Cats were bested 71-68.

Finally overcoming the hump of being unable to dig out of halftime deficits, Kentucky now looks to continue its recent resurgence, now standing at .500 in conference play.

The Wildcats will have an opportunity to earn a winning record in SEC play for the first time all season on Saturday, hosting Texas A&M inside Rupp Arena. Tip off against the Aggies is scheduled for 2 p.m. EST and will air live on ESPN.