John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats entered the NCAA Tournament 2023 with many still thinking about the way last season ended.
The Wildcats were defeated in the first round by St. Peter’s, last year’s Cinderella. ncaa tournament, putting immense pressure on Calipari and his 2022-23 Kentucky team to bounce back.
On Friday, Kentucky bounced backdefeating No. 11 seed Providence Friars, 61-53.
«It was a huge relief, obviously. I knew what this team was capable of,» forward Jacob Toppin said after the game. «So, we got the job done. Kudos to my teammates. We all stuck together. Even when they did their run. We didn’t put our heads down. We kept fighting.
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«We did the little things that won us the game.»
Senior guard Antonio Reeves led Kentucky in scoring, hitting 5 of 9 shots from beyond the 3-point line, finishing the night with 22 points.
Reigning National Player of the Year Oscar Tsheibwe was a monster on the board, grabbing 13 rebounds, eight on the offensive board, in the first half, finishing the night with 25 boards.
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Before the season, Calipari told Kentucky fans to be patient with his team, saying they may not like the initial results.
“I like the pieces,” Calipari said in a video prior to the year. «We’ve got Player of the Year, we’ve got another first-team all-conference, we’ve got good young guys. But let me explain, and you know I’m honest about things. We’re not where we need to be right now.
«And I’m looking at November and December saying, ‘We might be a little shaky.'»
And Kentucky was «shaky,» starting the year ranked fourth in the preseason rankings before losing three of its first four SEC games.
But the Wildcats went 11-3 the rest of the way in the conference, grabbing a No. 4 seed in the tournament after losing to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament.
Now, Calipari has his team moving forward, waiting on the winner of Montana State-Kansas State for a second-round matchup on Sunday.