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As Antonio Reeves’ All-American candidacy ramps up, so does his scoring streak for Kentucky

Antonio Reeves’ All-American candidacy has kicked into high gear as this Kentucky basketball season reaches its closing stretch.

And the fifth-year guard’s performance in UK’s home win Saturday against Arkansas served as the latest reminder of why he’s getting buzz as a top national player.

Reeves led all Kentucky players in scoring (22 points) in the 111-102 win over the Razorbacks. In doing so, Reeves — who is the only UK player to start all 29 games this season — continued his historic recent scoring stretch with the Wildcats.

Saturday marked Reeves’ fifth straight game scoring at least 20 points: Previously, Reeves had 22 points in UK’s road win at Auburn on Feb. 17, 25 points in a buzzer-beating road loss to LSU on Feb. 21, 24 points in UK’s home win against Alabama on Feb. 24 and 21 points in UK’s win last week at Mississippi State.

This makes Reeves the first Kentucky player to score at least 20 points in five straight games since Jamal Murray, who did so in 12 straight contests across February and March 2016.

“Antonio Reeves is having a ridiculous year,” UK head coach John Calipari said on his weekly radio show Wednesday, at the start of a lengthy promotion of Reeves’ play this season. “If there are two or three guards, in the country, playing better than Antonio Reeves, could you name them? Maybe (R.J. Davis) at North Carolina. But name them. Who? And (Reeves) is doing it efficiently.”

To that point, Reeves ranks 80th in the nation in individual effective field goal percentage and 55th in the country in individual true shooting percentage.

Reeves has been a consistent scoring presence all season long for the Cats: He’s averaging an even 20 points per game, which ranks third in the SEC and in the top 35 nationally.

One of the most talked about improvements with Reeves this season — his ability to score in a wider variety of ways compared to last season — has also been on full display during this scoring stretch.

Over the last five games, Reeves has made 39 shots from the field (only 11 3-pointers), along with 25 free throws.

“Every time we need a basket, he goes and gets it,” Calipari said of Reeves, who is a candidate for several end-of-season awards including the Oscar Robertson Trophy (National Player of the Year) and All-American lists by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, the Naismith Trophy Men’s College Player of the Year, the John R. Wooden Award and the Jerry West Award.

Calipari did his best Saturday to increase the All-American attention on Reeves during a postgame interview on CBS with former Villanova head coach Jay Wright.

“He’s a first-team All-American,” the UK coach said of Reeves to a national TV audience. “This kid is really playing.”

It’s also fitting that Reeves’ most recent scoring performance came against a team he’s terrorized since transferring to Kentucky in April 2022.

In four career games against head coach Eric Musselman and Arkansas, Reeves averaged 23.5 points. This, of course, includes last season’s 37-point outburst in an upset road win in Fayetteville, as well as scoring performances of 22 points (Saturday) and 24 points (Jan. 27) in a pair of wins over the Hogs this season.

When Reeves takes to the court for Senior Night on Wednesday as Kentucky hosts Vanderbilt, he will do so with the ability to move up in several categories on Kentucky’s scoring leaderboards.

Reeves — who has scored in double figures in every game but one (North Carolina) this season — now has 1,068 career points in less than two full seasons in Lexington. That’s good enough for No. 53 on the all-time UK scoring list, and its fourth-best among players who only played two seasons at UK.

There’s also the chance Reeves will crack the top 10 of UK’s all-time 3-point shooters (by number of 3s made) before his college career is up.

Reeves has made 153 career 3s at UK, which is tied for 13th in program history with Jeff Brassow. He is 22 made 3s behind Darius Miller, who is in 10th on UK’s all-time list.

“It’s amazing, just to see the way he’s been playing, the great player he is,” UK freshman guard D.J. Wagner said of Reeves after Saturday’s win. “Just to be able to be on the court with him, it’s an honor. It’s amazing just seeing all the great plays he makes and all the amazing things he does.”

Kentucky guard Antonio Reeves (12) dunks against Arkansas forward Makhi Mitchell (15) on a breakaway play during Saturday’s game at Rupp Arena. Reeves has now scored at least 20 points in five straight games for the Wildcats.
Kentucky guard Antonio Reeves (12) dunks against Arkansas forward Makhi Mitchell (15) on a breakaway play during Saturday’s game at Rupp Arena. Reeves has now scored at least 20 points in five straight games for the Wildcats.

Antonio Reeves has provided leadership for young Kentucky team

After last summer’s drama concerning whether Reeves would or wouldn’t be staying at Kentucky for a second season, perhaps the leadership Reeves has provided to an extraordinarily young UK team has been just as valuable as his scoring exploits.

“Just his work ethic,” Wagner said when asked what impresses him most about Reeves. “What he does, it doesn’t really surprise none of us because we see how much work he puts in. We’ve all got confidence in him and we know he can do that, the amazing scoring performances … Even the other stuff like defense and stuff like that. He’s there as a leader on our team, just as a veteran.

“Honestly, the most impressive thing to me (about Reeves) is just how hard he works,” Wagner added. “Just always seeing him in the gym. It’s rare that you go in the gym and you don’t see him in there.”

Reeves and fellow fifth-year player Tre Mitchell (who returned from a four-game injury absence in Saturday’s win) had combined for 6,801 out of 7,101 total minutes of Division I college basketball experience (95.8%) that Kentucky had coming into the 2023-24 season. They’ve helped lead the way on and off the court, and that’s helped their young teammates grow into a position of comfort.

Case in point? Kentucky’s closing lineup to see off Arkansas on Saturday featured five freshmen, including Wagner.

(Afterward, Calipari said this was the result of substitution patterns after he intended to give Reeves a quick rest with 7:50 to go.)

“Teaching us just to stay poised, no matter what,” Wagner said of the calm brought to the Cats by Reeves and Mitchell. “If we’re winning, if we’re losing, just seeing how they react, too, when they’re in the games and even them on the bench. Even when they aren’t in the game, they’re still contributing and cheering us on.”

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