LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Tre Mitchell scored 23 points, Antonio Reeves added 21 and No. 8 Kentucky shot 62% to beat Georgia 105-96 on Saturday night.
Zvonimir Ivišić added 13 points off the bench in his long-awaited debut, including 11 during a highlight-heavy 13-2 first-half run that broke the game open. The NCAA declared the 7-foot-2 Croatian forward eligible earlier in the day after a prolonged screening process that frustrated coach John Calipari and the Wildcats' fan base.
Jabri Abdur-Rahim scored 34 points for the Bulldogs (13-5, 3-2 Southeastern Conference), who lost their first road game this season after entering as one of four Division I squads unbeaten away from home. Georgia shot 50% (31 of 62) but couldn’t keep pace with hot-shooting Kentucky, which made 39 of 63 overall and 14 of 25 from behind the arc.
Kentucky (14-3, 4-1) led 54-35 at halftime, and the nation's top scoring team didn't let up as it led 96-68 with 7 1/2 minutes remaining and appeared to threaten several offensive milestones. The Bulldogs didn't wilt and closed the gap, and the Wildcats ended with their third triple-digit performance this season and first in SEC play since beating Tennessee 107-79 on Jan. 15, 2022.
“We have a really smart team,” Calipari said. “Offensively, really good. Defensively, in the first half we were pretty good. Second half with eight minutes to go. ... they just kept coming.”
D.J. Wagner added 18 points and a season-high 10 assists and Reed Sheppard 12 for Kentucky, which won its second in a row.
BIG Z’s BIG DEBUT
Anticipation grew immediately after Ivišić’s announcement on social media that the NCAA finally declared him eligible to play after patiently waiting for more than half a season. It swelled at Rupp Arena when he entered the game four minutes in and exploded with his no-look, behind-the-back pass to Reeves for a 3-pointer.
“It felt amazing," Ivišić said. "I was enjoying the moment, enjoying it with the crowd.”
Ivišić’s perimeter shooting created the biggest highlights as he sank three 3s and a 2-pointer in five possessions to help build a 41-24 lead. Known as “Big Z,” he ended with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting, five boards and two assists in 16 minutes. He was also whistled for flagrant-1 foul in the first half and a technical in the second for hanging on the rim after a dunk.
“He (Calipari) lets me to shoot in practice, of course, but it just happened," added Ivišić, who did a Michael Jordan-esque shimmy after one jumper.
Kentucky's 1983-84 squad that reached the NCAA Final Four was honored at halftime with Kenny Walker, Sam Bowie and Winston Bennett among the surviving members who returned for the reunion. Coach Joe B. Hall, Bret Bearup and Mel Turpin, all deceased, were also recognized.
Georgia initially hung tough on the road before Kentucky went on the game-changing roll that threatened to make the game a rout. The Bulldogs deserve credit for outscoring Kentucky 61-51 to make it respectable, but seemed caught off guard defensively, especially stopping Kentucky from 3-point range. The Bulldogs' bench, which entered the contest ranked 16th nationally with a plus-14.3 point margin, was no match for the Wildcats' depth as the reserves were outscored 31-25.
“I was very surprised we dug ourselves that big of a hole for us to not see that coming," coach Mike White said, "but not surprised that the way that we continued to fight.”
Kentucky got ever closer to being whole with Ivišić's return and the freshman forward showed what could come with an impressive performance. His perimeter shooting helped the Wildcats finish 56% from deep and helped provide a 27-16 advantage in assists.
Georgia hosts LSU on Wednesday night.
Kentucky visits South Carolina on Tuesday night.
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