Veterans lead Kentucky past Providence in NCAA opener
Just one week removed from falling to Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Kentucky had a shot at redemption on this Friday night. And the Cats' veterans made sure that UK did not waste the opportunity.
Senior Antonio Reeves led all scorers with 22 points as sixth-seeded Kentucky beat No. 11 seed Providence 61-53 in the first round of the 2023 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament on Friday inside Greensboro Coliseum.
Reeves got plenty of help from his fellow seniors. Jacob Toppin had 18 points and six rebounds, while Oscar Tshiebwe had just eight points, but grabbed 25 rebounds, etching his name even further into the UK record book.
Tshiebwe topped the rebounding mark by a UK player in an NCAA Tournament game, which came on this day in 1956 when Jerry Bird had 24 rebounds in Kentucky's 89-77 win over Iowa in the NCAA Midwest Regional Final in Iowa City. Tshiebwe's 25 rebounds were three short of his career high of 28 that came last year against Western Kentucky. His 25 rebounds on Friday night were the eighth-most by a UK player in any game in school history.
Kentucky (22-11) was able to redeem itself from the early exit in the SEC Tournament last week. The Cats will now face the winner of the Kansas State-Montana State to be played later on Friday.
For Toppin, Tshiebwe and the other UK veterans, this win also put last year's upset loss to Saint Peter's in the rearview mirror.
The Cats also did an outstanding job on Providence's leading scorer, and former Wildcat, Bryce Hopkins. Toppin drew a large portion of the defensive assignment and he, with support from his teammates, held Hopkins to seven points, below his average of 16.1 points per outing.
The game was a tale of two halves. The first half was a high-paced affair with lots of scoring. Reeves had 14 points and Toppin 12 as Kentucky grabbed a 38-31 advantage at the break.
The second half was a bit more defensive. Kentucky made just seven of 28 field goals in the second half, while Providence made just eight of 27 (29.6 percent). UK outscored Providence 23-22 in the second half. The 53 points by Providence was the fewest by a UK opponent since UK held West Virginia to 39 in 2015.
The time and TV network for Kentucky's Sunday game will be announced later.