Reeves continues hot streak to lead Cats past Illinois St.

Published 10:28 am Saturday, December 30, 2023

Antonio Reeves didn’t get caught up in his emotions during a reunion with his former team Friday night.

The senior guard scored 27 points to lead eighth-ranked Kentucky to a 96-70 win over Illinois State. Reeves, who scored 1,195 points from 2019-22 in three seasons with the Redbirds before transferring to Kentucky, made four of the team’s 11 shots form long range and missed just five field goals on 15 attempts from the field.

Reeves picked up where he left off after scoring 30 points in the Wildcats’ 95-76 win over Louisville on Dec. 21. Reeves has scored 57 points in the past two games. After scoring just nine points in Kentucky’s 87-83 win over North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic on Dec. 16, Reeves has exploded.

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The sharp-shooting guard was well-prepared to take on his former squad and spent the majority of his time in the gym Thursday launching shots.

“You know who was in the gym last night after dinner, shooting 400 more shots?” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “He had 1,400 shots in yesterday. Four-hundred of them came after dinner. He was in there by himself. But the no ball machine charts, every shot face recognition. … I told the guys, ‘Who do you think was in there? The guy that made all the shots.;”

While spending extra time in the gym has made a difference in his recent scoring burst, Reeves said other mental factors have contributed to his improvement.

“(I’m) just feeling confident (and) comfortable out there,” he said. “My teammates find me and (are) looking for me out there. I’m letting the game come to me.”

Calipari also praised Reeves’ performance on the defensive end.

“He was guarding their best player,” Calipari said. “Last year, he would guard their worst player and we hoped he had black socks on that guy, because now he’s our best perimeter defender.”

Illinois coach Ryan Pedon was impressed by Reeves, who entered the transfer portal after he arrived. The former Ohio State assistant coach had no hard feelings toward Reeves at the time and had the same emotions after seeing the former Illinois State guard in person Friday night.

“It was obvious to me that he probably was going to be moving on and very respectful (and) I have no ill will opposite of that,” he said. “I love the way he carries himself. I think he plays the right way, and I’ve seen real growth in his game from last year to this year. I think he’s a gifted scorer and I think he’s playing his role really well.”

Reeves got some help from his teammates as four players finished in double figures for the Wildcats. Rob Dillingham scored 16 points with seven assists, D.J. Wagner tallied 14 and Reed Sheppard added 11 points, five rebounds and five assists.

As Kentucky shifts into Southeastern Conference mode going into the new calendar year, Reeves wants the Wildcats to attain bigger goals during and after conference play.

“We want (to) try to get a national championship,” he said. “We’re just going to try to have a good year.”