Cats wear down Texas A&M Commerce, improve to 2-0

Published 9:30 am Monday, November 13, 2023

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Kentucky’s speed was too much for Texas A&M Commerce.

The Wildcats (2-0) overcame a slow start and ran away with an 81-61 win over the Lions Friday night at Rupp Arena. The No. 16 Wildcats did so by playing under control and eventually wearing down the weary Lions.

Kentucky committed just three turnovers and dished out 12 assists in the team’s final tune-up before Tuesday’s showdown against top-ranked Kansas in the Champions Classic Tuesday in Chicago.

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“Would you say we played pretty fast?” Calipari said. “We had three turnovers. Now I’m wondering if we’re not being aggressive enough and I had to leave and the game with three turnovers, but that’s like ridiculous.”

Just as the hosts did in the opener, five players scored in double figures, paced by veterans Antonio Reeves and Tre Mitchell, who combined for 39 points, with Reeves leading the way with 21. The senior guard knocked down five of the team’s eight 3-pointers, including three in a row to close out the first half. Reeves credits the team’s success to making “simple plays.”

“I’m more comfortable out there,” Reeves said. “I’m experienced and I know what to do (on the floor) in certain situations and things like that. I feel a lot better out there (on the court).”

Just as he raved in the preseason, Calipari said Reeves is a different player than last season.

“He is at ease with who he is as a player,” Calipari said. “He has no anxiety about who he is as a player. This group is treating him like a vet and a player that’s really needed. They’re finding him for shots and he’s making them.”

If not for a coaching change at West Virginia, the Wildcats would have been shorthanded in the post. As Kentucky awaits for two of its post players to become healthy and another to become eligible by the NCAA, Mitchell has provided a versatile presence in the post and it has shown in the first two games. Mitchell’s impressive assist-to-turnover ratio has impressed Calipari and his staff.

“His career numbers, career assists — the turnover ratio – he has more turnovers than assists, how the heck does that happen? (Now) he has maybe the best assist-to-turnover ratio on our team.”

Reeves also has been impressed by Mitchell’s flexibility on the perimeter and in the post.

“He’s a big that can really do it all, dribble, pass and shoot and set screens,” Calipari said. “He helps get the offense going and things like that. He’s really doing a good job. If you try to double-team him, someone is going to be open. We’re going to need that moving forward this season.”

The veteran leadership, coupled with balanced scoring and early chemistry, will be tested Tuesday night when the Wildcats take on top-ranked Kansas in the Champions Classic at Chicago,

“I can’t wait,” Reeves said. “I definitely look forward to that game, just to see where we are as a team. I feel like we’re going to do some really big things and I feel like the freshmen are ready for it. I have a lot of people coming. It’s going to be a big game and we’ve just got to show what we can do.”