Hilltoppers Fall at No. 20/18 Kentucky in Tornado Relief Game

LEXINGTON, Ky. — WKU Hilltopper Basketball was within two scores early in the second half Wednesday against No. 20/18 Kentucky, but the Wildcats’ crisp offense and dominant rebounding were the difference in a 95-60 loss at Rupp Arena.

Five days after Kentucky dismantled North Carolina 98-69 on a neutral court, the Wildcats (9-2) picked up where they left off in the first regular season game between the two programs since 2001.

The game also helped raise money for those affected by the tornadoes that devastated the state on Dec. 11. Kentucky donated $100,000 of the game revenue to the American Red Cross.

“First off, I’ll say this again,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “Give Kentucky a lot of credit for their willingness to play this game. They didn’t have to play it. Their willingness to donate some money to our community and the state of Kentucky. I told Cal, they had nothing to gain by playing the game. He knows that and that’s why he hadn’t played it. So give him credit. But today, we had no answer.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to say the other team was better. And they were better in every area. Again, I don’t have any answers for everything they did. But I just know when they play like that, they were the best team in America today.”

Kentucky went on a 16-2 run after WKU opened a 5-4 lead, pulling in front 20-7 on a dunk by Jacob Toppin with 10:48 to play in the first half.

The Wildcats led by as much as 16 in the first half, but WKU (8-5) answered with a 7-0 run and trimmed its deficit to 37-28 at the break.

The Hilltoppers then scored the first five points of the second half, making it a 37-33 game with 18:46 to go on a pair of free throws by senior forward Jairus Hamilton.

But Kentucky then delivered the knockout blow – a 15-0 burst that included 11 points by Kellan Grady with three 3-pointers.

“I think it was big that we brought the game within four points,” fifth-year senior guard Josh Anderson said. “As far as UK, I think they were just prepared for a moment like that. Just for us going forward, that when we’re in a game like this and a battle like this, we’ve just got to come together. We had a nice run, got it down to four, and in a moment like that, we’ve just got to push through and get the lead.”

Grady finished with a game-high 23 points, while TyTy Washington Jr. added 20. Oscar Tshiebwe finished with 14 points and 28 rebounds, a new Rupp Arena record.

Kentucky tallied 27 assists and outrebounded WKU 50-27.

Fifth-year senior guard Josh Anderson led the Hilltoppers with 18 points, while graduate senior guard Camron Justice added 13.

Junior center Jamarion Sharp had eight points, seven blocks and six rebounds before a sprained ankle sidelined him for the majority of the second half.

The Hilltoppers now break for the holidays before beginning Conference USA play at Southern Miss at 7 p.m. CT on Dec. 30. That game will air on ESPN+.

“There’s always things to learn from every game,” Justice said. “I think in this one it was that they were the better team tonight. In games like this when they’re knocking down shots and getting to their spots, it becomes more about the character of your team and your culture and are guys going to stick together or are they going to start blaming one another. I thought it was good tonight, everybody stuck together. We just kind of knew it wasn’t our night but we kept fighting.”