No. 10 Kentucky hands North Dakota first loss of the season

LEXINGTON, Ky. – PJ Washington scored a game-high 25 points and added seven rebounds to help the No. 10 Kentucky Wildcats defeat North Dakota, 96-58, from historic Rupp Arena on Wednesday evening in Lexington, Ky.

UND (2-1) hung with one of the top teams in the nation for most of the first half, but a 22-4 run to end the opening stanza tilted the contest in favor of the Wildcats as the hosts’ athleticism proved to be too much in the victory.

Conner Avants reached double figures for the second straight game with a team-high 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field. Filip Rebraca became the seventh UND player to cross the 10-point scoring plateau this season with a 13-point, six rebound, three steals, and a block night to help pace the Hawks.

Facing one of the rowdiest fan bases and hostile environments in all of college basketball, UND struggled with 20 turnovers that turned into 31 points for Kentucky. The Wildcats also finished with a +30 advantage on the glass with a 45-15 rebounding margin.

North Dakota came out attacking to begin the contest, forcing a turnover on the game’s opening possession that led to immediate offense. Davids Atelbauers poured in back-to-back triples and Avants scored on a great feed from Walter to give the Fighting Hawks an 8-7 lead.

The hot shooting continued through the opening portion of the first half, as UND knocked down six of its first 11 shots, including four of six from deep; however, Kentucky was just as hot from the field as the hosts hit 10 of 13 to take a 27-16 lead with 9:54 remaining in the stanza.

After the Hawks had trimmed the deficit down to 17-16, Kentucky embarked on a 22-4 run to spark the crowd and take a 39-20 lead with just five minutes to play in the first half.

While UND clamped down on defensive as the half wore on, the Wildcats were able to capitalize on turnovers and free throws to take a 21-point lead, 46-25, into the intermission.

After a 7-4 start to the half for the Hawks thanks to four points from Avants, a bucket by Atelbauers, and a converted free throw by Cortez Seales, Kentucky answered with a 7-0 run in under a minute to take its largest lead of the night at the time, 57-32, less than four minutes into the second period.

Rebraca became the first UND player to reach double figures at the midway point of the second half before Avants joined the freshman with his second straight game reaching double figures following a 1-for-2 trip to the charity stripe, but Kentucky still led by 30 with just over eight minutes to play.

Kentucky held its advantage for the remainder of the contest, never letting the deficit slip lower than 25, as the No. 10 team in the nation walked away with the 96-58 victory.

North Dakota returns to action on Saturday afternoon at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center as the Fighting Hawks host Minnesota Morris at 3 p.m. Fans can catch the action on FOX Sports North PLUS.