John Calipari shakes up Kentucky starting lineup. Justin Edwards will come off the bench.

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For the first time in six weeks, John Calipari shook up his starting lineup Saturday night.

For Kentucky’s SEC basketball clash at Arkansas, the UK coach deployed D.J. Wagner, Antonio Reeves, a returning Adou Thiero, Tre Mitchell and Aaron Bradshaw as his starting five. The change came four days after the Wildcats’ most lopsided loss of the season — a 79-62 defeat at South Carolina — that set a new low for points scored by a UK team that entered this weekend leading the nation with 89.9 points per game. The Cats’ previous low came in an 80-73 loss to UNC Wilmington on Dec. 2, and they’ve scored more than 80 points in every other game this season.

Exiting Kentucky’s starting lineup Saturday was freshman Justin Edwards.

Calipari used the same starting five — Wagner, Reeves, Edwards, Mitchell and Bradshaw — for the past nine games, starting with the inclusion of Bradshaw into the lineup against North Carolina on Dec. 16, his third game of the season. UK beat the now-No. 3-ranked Tar Heels 87-83 — its biggest win of the season so far — and ultimately won its first five games with the new starting five, which had a 7-2 record.

Edwards, the No. 3 overall recruit in the 2023 rankings, has struggled in his freshman season, averaging 8.1 points and 3.9 rebounds while starting all 18 previous games for the team. Fifth-year players Mitchell and Reeves were the only other two Wildcats that had started every game this season.

Calipari said in his pregame radio interview Saturday that Edwards injured his leg in practice and wouldn’t start against the Razorbacks, though he went through pregame warmups as normal. He entered the game for the first time with 14:14 left in the first half and the Wildcats losing 7-3.

Reed Sheppard was the first UK player to enter the game off the bench.

Edwards was averaging just 3.3 points and 2.3 rebounds over Kentucky’s three previous games heading into Saturday, and he had just two points and two rebounds in 23 minutes — missing his only shot from the field — in Tuesday’s loss at South Carolina.

Projected as the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NBA draft at the beginning of the season, Edwards has fallen out of the first round in recent mock drafts. His minutes have also dropped in recent weeks, even though Calipari kept him in the Wildcats’ starting lineup.

“Just got to keep getting in, gotta break through,” Calipari said after the loss at South Carolina. “He’s got to know that this is a team that — we’ve got a lot of players. And if someone’s playing better than you, you won’t believe this, they’re going to play in front of you.”

Kentucky was expected to be at full strength for the first time all season with the return of Thiero, who missed the past seven games with a back issue. The sophomore guard was indeed available to play against Arkansas, but the Cats were missing freshman guard Rob Dillingham, who made the trip to Fayetteville but sat out with an illness. UK started the season without its trio of 7-footers — Bradshaw, Zvonimir Ivisic and Ugonna Onyenso — but all have made their debuts over the past several weeks.

The Cats have now played 19 games this season, and they’ve yet to be at full strength for any of them.

“I am so proud of him, because of what he’s overcoming, which is the anxiety of, ‘I’m supposed to be this.’ You can’t live with comparisons. You can’t be judgmental of yourself,” John Calipari said of Justin Edwards.
“I am so proud of him, because of what he’s overcoming, which is the anxiety of, ‘I’m supposed to be this.’ You can’t live with comparisons. You can’t be judgmental of yourself,” John Calipari said of Justin Edwards.

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