We’re now into Week 2 of the new season, and the Kentucky Wildcats are 1-1.
They got there by losing to a good Duke team in NYC, but looking strong and much improved over the previous year. Then returning to Rupp for the home opener they defeated Robert Morris.
Although this is a veteran team for John Calipari, they have experience but need some experience playing together. We saw that in the Duke game and the Robert Morris game gave the Wildcats a chance to loosen up and find a rhythm of relaxing and playing as a team.
The second half of the Robert Morris game is where this edition of the Cats clicked and seemed to hit stride putting on a clinic of what we hope to see them improve on as the year continues. The AirCal offense found the team launching 23 three-pointers and hitting 52.2% of them.
Once again showing a different look and an arsenal that can open up the inside by firing with accuracy from the outside. The team also shot 57.1% from the floor and in the process knocking out 46 points in the paint, scoring 23 points off of turnovers, and streaking in with 20 fast break points. Slashing inside, firing from outside, and using speed up and down the floor showed an intensity that should become the standard for the team this season.
The Wildcats pushed the pace throughout the game eventually running away from their opponent with 6 players in double figures and a few standouts even more notable. Grady and Mintz led the shooting attack, Damion Collins became a human highlight reel scoring a career high 14 points, shooting 7/8 from the field, while displaying a dazzling array of dunking skills.
Then of course there was “The Force” Oscar Tshiebwe. Oscar wrapped up his first week in a Wildcat uniform averaging 15.5 points, 20 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game. It didn’t matter whether the opponent was Duke or Robert Morris, the big man inside broke records and established himself as the best rebounder in the country. The records? Here are a few from this past week. Most rebounds in a Champion Classics game – 20 vs. Duke. Most rebounds by a Kentucky basketball player in the first Wildcat game – 20 vs. Duke. Most rebounds ever in a Wildcat’s first two games in school history – 40 passing the record held by the legendary Dan Issel. Most rebounds by a Kentucky player in Rupp Arena (tie) 20 vs Robert Morris.
John Calipari summarized the things that Oscar is doing right now using the word “silly”
“He’s just going in and grabbing, jerking them in.”
Tshiebwe noted – “I didn’t come here to have fun, I came to be a warrior and help this team, to take them as far as I can.” But as you watched him play, it was apparent that he was indeed having fun.
So as the first week of the Revenge Tour begins, the signs of life that most fans had hoped for are all there. The run and gun offense, the quicker pace, the veteran players, the freshman standouts, the AirCal outside air force, the inside blast the boards force, and a team trying to see how to play together were all on display. While a win against Duke would have been nice, it in no way diminishes the Wildcat start into the new season.