LEXINGTON, Ky. — What looked like an easy Saturday afternoon at Rupp Arena turned into a tough day for the Kentucky Wildcats.
UK jumped out to a double-digit lead on Yale before the midway point of the first half, and it appeared the Cats would coast against an overmatched team missing its best player. Instead, Kentucky went cold, the Bulldogs continued to battle, and the result was an often ugly affair that UK fans were forced to keep watching to know for sure what the final outcome would be.
That final score? Kentucky 69, Yale 59.
A victory for 16th-ranked UK, yes, but not one that will do much to ease the anxiousness over a Wildcats’ offense that has shown a tendency to disappear for long stretches.
That’s what happened Saturday, when the Cats made nine of their first 15 attempts — and took a 23-11 lead — with 11:27 left in the first half before missing 13 of their next 15 shots from there. At one point in that span, Kentucky missed 10 in a row from the field.
Yale (8-3) actually took the lead from the Cats early in the second half, going up 35-33 before the first TV timeout after the break, before reigning national player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe took over.
Tshiebwe made five consecutive shots and scored 12 straight points — with a block and a steal thrown in — to help put Kentucky back on top and stay there. The Kentucky star finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds, but he didn’t get a whole lot of help during a game that was closer than it should have been.
Sahvir Wheeler and Antonio Reeves each scored 10 points. Cason Wallace added eight points (all in the first five minutes) and Chris Livingston had seven. No other Wildcat had more than four points.
Yale came into the game at No. 88 in the KenPom ratings. Last month, the Bulldogs nearly knocked off Colorado — a team that handed No. 7 Tennessee its only loss this season — and were rated as the best team Kentucky has played after Gonzaga, Michigan State and Michigan, but this game wasn’t expected to be overly competitive. Yale lost to Butler earlier in the week, and the Bulldogs were 15.5-point underdogs coming into Saturday’s contest.
Yale was also playing without its top player, junior forward Matt Knowling, who missed the game with an injury. His status was announced a few minutes before tipoff. Knowling is averaging 16.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists through 10 games this season, leading Yale in both scoring and rebounding.
Kentucky’s next game
The Wildcats get a week off from games before heading back on the road to face UCLA in Madison Square Garden as part of the annual CBS Sports Classic. The Bruins came into the weekend at No. 7 in the KenPom ratings — higher than any UK opponent thus far — and No. 19 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
UCLA took a 7-2 record into Saturday’s game against Denver, with single-digit losses to No. 12 Baylor and No. 17 Illinois so far this season. While the Wildcats get the week off, the Bruins will face a tough test — at No. 13 Maryland on Wednesday night — before heading to New York.