Five things you need to know from the No. 19 Kentucky Wildcats’ 60-41 win over the Bellarmine Knights in NCAA men’s college basketball at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center in downtown Lexington:
1. Bellarmine made UK sweat. The visiting Knights controlled the first 28 minutes of the game with their deliberate offensive system and sagging defense. At halftime, the score was tied at 21. For Kentucky, it was the fewest points scored in a first half since the 2005-06 Wildcats tallied 20 against Vanderbilt (who had 23) on Jan. 10, 2006, en route to a 57-52 loss to the Commodores.
Against a sagging Bellarmine defense, UK made only nine of 30 first-half shots, two of 11 treys, and turned the ball over nine times.
It was ugly.
After halftime, Bellarmine came out and hit four of its first five shot attempts and three straight treys. The Knights led 32-28 at the first under-four-minute timeout (15:21) of the second half.
From there, Kentucky’s superior depth and overall talent level finally prevailed.
2. Fredrick, Toppin spark decisive run. The game was tied at 32 when Kentucky guard CJ Fredrick, fouled while driving, hit two free throws to put the Cats ahead to stay. A pair of Jacob Toppin foul shots pushed the Kentucky lead to 36-32.
Fredrick then made back-to-back three-point shots, followed by consecutive layups from Toppin.
By that point, Kentucky led 46-35 and the tension that had been building the longer Bellarmine stayed in the game was largely drained from Rupp Arena.
3. Cats deny Bellarmine a rare achievement. Having already beaten Louisville 67-66 to open their season, Coach Scott Davenport’s Knights came to Rupp Arena with a chance to do something no in-state men’s basketball team had achieved in 95 years: Beat UK and U of L in the same season.
The last in-state team to record victories over Kentucky and Louisville in the same year was Kentucky Wesleyan way back in 1926-27. Wesleyan beat UK 31-24 on Jan. 10, 1927, then defeated U of L 46-44 in the KIAC Tournament on Feb. 21 of that year.
4. A homecoming for Lexington prep star. Former Lexington Catholic star Ben Johnson, Kentucky’s 2021 Mr. Basketball, made a return to his hometown.
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound redshirt freshman came home immediately after the best game of his young college career. In Bellarmine’s 80-61 loss at UCLA on Sunday, Johnson rifled in 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting.
Alas, his debut as a collegian in Rupp Arena was less memorable than his first trip to Pauley Pavilion.
Johnson missed his only two field-goal tries and finished with no points, one rebound and one turnover in 19 minutes.
5. Calipari vs. the state. With Kentucky’s victory, John Calipari is now 22-3 as UK head man vs. in-state schools.
Calipari is 3-0 vs. Eastern Kentucky; 3-0 vs. Morehead State; 2-0 vs. Northern Kentucky; 2-0 vs. Western Kentucky; 1-0 vs. Bellarmine; and 11-3 against Louisville.