Kentucky’s Antonio Reeves scoops up a shot against North Florida. (Photo by Les Nicholson)
LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Kentucky coach John Calipari tweaked his starting lineup after suffering two losses in one week span.
Antonio Reeves made his first start of the season and provided a spark for the Wildcats in a 96-56 win over North Florida on Wednesday. The senior guard scored 20 points, but it was his first-half performance that provided a spark for Kentucky, which was coming off a disappointing 88-72 loss art No. 6 Gonzaga Sunday night.
“I didn’t like how we started the last game — just didn’t like it,” Calipari said. “And I said, ‘let’s let him come in and see if we start better or if we defend a little bit better.’”
A seasoned veteran, Reeves, an Illinois State transfer, didn’t feel any pressure and “just wanted to be ready to go when my name is called if I’m on the bench or not.” And he wasn’t rattled or intimidated.
“Knowing I’m a scorer, I just try to go out there and make plays for the team,” he said. “I try to go into every game having the mindset of being aggressive. … The rim got bigger for me. I just kept shooting the ball. There were a couple of times I missed. Shooters shoot, so I definitely have that mentality.”
His teammates took noticed and followed his lead throughout the contest. Jacob Toppin wasn’t surprised.
“Antoino is definitely a spark for us,” said Toppin, who tied Reeves for game-high scoring honors with 20 points. “He can really score the ball. When he gets going, it’s good for everyone, because we feed off that energy. We see him make shots and everyone else is going to want to make shots. It holds everyone to a higher standard and that’s good for us.”
Oscar Tshiebwe collected a double-double with 16 points and 15 rebounds for Kentucky, which was never threatened.
Reeves showed his aggressiveness early against the Ospreys and knocked down four of the Wildcats’ seven 3-pointers in the first half. Reeves connected on back-to-back threes and swished a 3-pointer at the buzzer to cap an impressive performance.
Prior to his first start, Reeves was 8-for-29 from the field in the previous five games but had a breakout when the Wildcats needed it the most coming off a poor showing at Gonzaga.
“It’s maturity,” he said. “In my freshman and sophomore year (at Illinois State) it bothered me a little bit, but as you get older, you know you’re a basketball player and you know you are going to have games like that. You get in the gym every day and just focus on getting better your team and yourself.”
North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll said Reeves was a difference-maker in the contest.
“Just from watching him on film and from coaching for 35 years, (he) is as good of a 3-point shooter and as good of a 3-point finder as there is in the country. If he doesn’t have a 3, he’s going to find it with a step back or a separation, instead of getting thrown off. I think that’s why Coach [Calipari] made the switch and started him … I think [Reeves] is a difference-maker for them and I think he is going to open up what is going to transpire as he grows into his game.”
Although a veteran, Reeves is still growing and learning.
Gametracker: Kentucky vs. Bellarmine, 7 p.m. Tuesday. TV/Radio: SECN+, UK Radio Network.