Antonio Reeves’ instant offense has been a key to Kentucky basketball’s win streak

Silas Walker/swalker@herald-leader.com

There’s a difference between a shooter and a scorer.

Antonio Reeves is a scorer.

To be sure, Kentucky’s 6-foot-5 senior wing can shoot. Last year at Illinois State, the Chicago native made 39 percent of his shots from three-point range while averaging 20.1 points per game. This year, his first at UK after transferring from the Missouri Valley Conference, Reeves is shooting 39.7 percent from beyond the arc.

Reeves has that quick catch-and-fire release. He can knock it down in transition, in the corners, at the top of the key. On his game, he’s a scoring threat from most any spot on the floor.

During Kentucky’s current four-game win streak, including UK’s 69-53 victory over Vanderbilt on Tuesday night at Memorial Gymnasium, Reeves has been the Cats’ most consistent scorer. He’s averaging 17.0 points per game during this winning stretch. He scored 18 points in the season-turning victory at Tennessee, 11 in the home win over Georgia, a game-high 23 in last Saturday’s win over Texas A&M at Rupp and a team-high 16 against the Commodores.

How valuable has Reeves been in the Cats’ course-correction?

“He’s been good,” UK Coach John Calipari said after the win in Music City. “Very confident. Playing better defensively. Rebounding balls. Mixing it up. And he’s not just worried about offense, he’s worried about playing.”

He’s not worried about starting, either. Since the victory over the fifth-ranked Vols on Jan. 14, Calipari has stuck with the same winning starting lineup. Reeves is first off the bench. That role hasn’t curtailed his minutes. In this quartet of happiness, Reeves has played 30, 26, 28 and 27 minutes.

Nor has it hurt Reeves’ production. He’s instant offense, sort of a Lou Williams sixth-man type. He’s not just a bomb-dropper from the perimeter. In UK’s 76-67 triumph over Buzz Williams and Texas A&M last Saturday, Reeves hit a pair of back-to-back runners late that extended UK’s lead to 69-63 with 1:32 left.

Tuesday night, Reeves drained a jumper from the left of the key that gave the Cats a 34-27 lead 50 seconds before halftime.

“I put him in a high pick-and-roll late in that first half. Bang!” Calipari said. “Those were all big plays to get out of there and have a big lead at halftime like that.”

Reeves’ teammates made plays, as well. Former starting point guard Sahvir Wheeler earned postgame back slaps for his five assists in 22 minutes. Jacob Toppin contributed a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Oscar Tshiebwe punched the clock with 15 points and 13 boards. CJ Fredrick dished five assists. If you haven’t noticed the difference a healthy Fredrick has made, you’re not paying attention.

This was Kentucky’s 14th straight victory over the ‘Dores. Though this time Jerry Stackhouse was without his leading scorer in the injured 7-footer Liam Robbins (13.2 points, 5.9 rebounds), the Vanderbilt coach has yet to crack the Calipari code. The former North Carolina and NBA star is 0-8 versus the Cats.

“Probably disappointed as I’ve ever been in a postgame,” Stackhouse said after the game. “With this group, since I’ve been here, just thought we had selfish play to begin the game and it bled over to our defense and to we’re just, everybody was trying to do it on their own. I don’t know, if it was just the magnitude of the game, the hype around the game, just, we weren’t ourselves.”

Lovable old Memorial Gym wasn’t full Tuesday, but plenty who showed up for the late night tip-off in Music City wore blue and used their voices. Joyous “Go Big Blue” chants punctuated the night.

Kansas is next up on the Cats’ calendar, 8 p.m. Saturday at Rupp. While Kentucky has won four straight, Kansas has dropped three in a row. The Jayhawks are in a similar space to the one Kentucky occupied when it arrived in Knoxville two weeks ago.

Plus, it’s UK vs. KU. In games like that, you need a scorer, a dependable scorer. Kentucky has one in Antonio Reeves.

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