LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky’s new basketball court in Rupp Arena was the scene of a major upset Saturday evening.
UNC Wilmington held off multiple rallies to shock Kentucky with an 80-73 victory, giving Seahawks coach Takayo Siddle another marquee win in the home of UK basketball. Siddle played for Gardner-Webb when that program knocked off Billy Gillispie’s Wildcats in Rupp Arena in 2007.
On the day much-hyped freshman Aaron Bradshaw made his college basketball debut and much-celebrated freshman Reed Sheppard made his first career start for the Wildcats, things were dicey for the home team for most of the game. Playing for the first time on the new Rupp Arena court — just the third playing surface in the building’s 47-year history — Kentucky started slow. UK missed 15 of its first 21 shots and committed nine turnovers in the first 14 minutes. The Cats were averaging just 8.1 turnovers per game coming into the day.
Kentucky closed the first half strong — cutting UNCW’s lead to 41-33 at halftime — and then kept things going in the right direction to start the second half.
Sheppard’s 3-pointer with 15:38 left gave the Wildcats a 48-46 lead, their first advantage of the game. The Cats and Seahawks, who were 18.5-point underdogs before tipoff, traded baskets from there, but UNCW eventually inched away.
Kentucky trailed 67-64 at the final TV timeout, and Tre Mitchell missed a free throw coming out of the break. UNCW junior Trazarien White hit a jumper on the next possession to put the Seahawks ahead 69-64 with 3:13 left, and UK leading scorer Antonio Reeves fouled out right after that. A free throw stemming from that foul gave UNCW a 70-64 lead.
Down 72-66 a short time later, Sheppard drove to the rim and finished off an and-one play to cut the Seahawks’ lead to three points with 2:00 left on the clock. But UNCW’s Shykeim Phillips answered with a bucket on the other end to make it a two-possession game again. Sheppard missed a 3-pointer and Mitchell missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw on the ensuing possession, and UNCW finished it out.
Sheppard led Kentucky with 25 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Reeves had 14 points and went 1 for 2 from 3-point range before fouling out. Mitchell and UK freshman Justin Edwards had 11 points and six rebounds each.
Bradshaw had three points, two rebounds and one blocked shot in 13 minutes.
Sheppard made his first college start Saturday in place of D.J. Wagner, who missed the game with an ankle injury. Wagner was hurt late in the first half of the Miami game and did not return. He is considered “day to day,” according to UK.
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