Kentucky Advances To The Round Of 32
It was a heartbreaking evening for former Wildcat, Bryce Hopkins, as he had his postseason run cut short to just one game by his old team and teammates, by double-digits. 6-seed Kentucky defeated 11-seed Providence, 63-51, in an exciting environment in the state of North Carolina.
A lot of pressure was surrounding this game in particular, with the weight of four plus years on their shoulders, including a loss that came exactly 365 days prior to tip-off. Players who returned from a season ago had a chip on their shoulder to prove they had what it took to win a postseason game while the newer faces wanted to win their first NCAA Tournament game in as many attempts.
I know speaking for myself, I was as nervous as can be all the way up until about 8 minutes into the first half. I was pacing around, obsessively thinking about how my heart couldn't make it through another offseason discussing Kentucky's troubles, and also pondering on how great I could sleep tonight if Kentucky got win. Well, they did just that and I pretty quickly could feel my nerves starting to fade away as the Cats led for 30:25 of the forty minutes in the game, taking control of their fate. While the UK lead never got to a comfortable position until the final few minutes, the 4-7 point lead throughout the majority of the game still felt secure and ours to lose. With this team's "Refuse To Lose" motto getting revamped this year, it had a lot of light shined directly on it this evening.
This team was willed by many contributing pieces, but I can undisputedly say that the three at the front of this group tonight were Jacob Toppin, Antonio Reeves, and Oscar Tshiebwe. Antonio went nuclear from the scoring field, bringing in 22 points and 5 made three-pointers. Jacob Toppin earned the team's MVP, filing a stat-line of 18 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block in 37 minutes. It also felt like Jacob was contributing at nearly every three plays revealed, showing desperation in his leadership, aggressive takes to the basket, and the mentality to fight until the final buzzer sounded off. For the last of the trio in Oscar Tshiebwe, he simply just broke another school record. His 25 rebounds set the record for the most rebounds by a UK player in a NCAA Tournament game, all-time.
Bryce Hopkins ultimately didn't have the game that everyone was afraid he would, as he finished far from "forty points" that this fanbase already declared him with, being limited to a total of 7 points (2/9 shooting), 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 turnovers, and 4 fouls in 39 minutes of action.
As Kentucky moves on, the 1-seed in the East Region managed to get upset tonight by a 16-seed for just the second time in tournament history, falling to Fairleigh Dickinson University, 63-58, shocking the nation. As the Cats survive and advance, they'll move on to Sunday's schedule to face 3-seed Kansas State. The game time for the Round of 32 matchup is set for a 2:40 p.m. ET. tip on CBS.
Tonight, go enjoy this win because it's something we haven't seen in 1,447 days (2019). Go Cats.