COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 20 Georgia at Kentucky
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Kentucky freshman center Zvonimir Ivišić gave Big Blue Nation a big boost to the Wildcats' NCAA Tournament title hopes, turning in 13 points, five boards and a pair of assists in his collegiate debut, a 105-96 victory vs. Georgia at Rupp Arena on Saturday. Ivišić, a Croatian standout who previously played professionally in the ABA League, missed the team's first 16 games due to issues clearing the NCAA's eligibility requirements, but he was given the green light ahead of the weekend and he delivered on the hype and then some, helping No. 8 UK easily defeat the Bulldogs.

Ivišić hit three of his four 3-point attempts in a barrage that came both from inside the paint and out as he dished and dazzled in front of an exuberant UK crowd. He finished the game 5 of 7 from the field and added three blocks coming off the bench in only 16 minutes.

Ivišić's clearance came after a week of public outcry from Kentucky fans, who not-so-subtly petitioned the NCAA by standing up billboards with the hashtag #FREEBIGZ in Indianapolis near NCAA headquarters, all in an effort to have him cleared. Those efforts were rewarded Saturday morning -- when Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart announced he had indeed been cleared -- and then further rewarded later in the day as the freshman put on a memorable show.

"It was a good start for him, and it took a long, long time, but I appreciate the work everybody did to make [his clearance] happen," UK coach John Calipari said. 

Kentucky's 2023 recruiting class ranked No. 1 in college hoops with Ivišić, a late add in the cycle, expected to serve a vital role for a UK team that needed depth in the frontcourt before eligibility snags cost him all of November and December. With Ivišić finally on the court, though, Kentucky may have found a real difference-maker who could help lift the team to new heights as they prepare for the heart of the SEC schedule and beyond.

That's good news for any team but especially for a Kentucky team that all season has struggled to find its way in the frontcourt either due to injuries or absences. With Ivišić in limbo and both Ugonna Onyenso and Aaron Bradshaw starting the season injured, UK had to piece together its roster with 6-foot-9 forward Tre Mitchell playing the role as the big man in smaller lineups.

That likely won't be the case much if at all moving forward. Bradshaw has played well of late, Onyenso looks like a solid depth defender who can block shots, and Ivišić -- in a painfully small sample -- looks like he may be a plug-and-play star for a contender.