Coach John Calipari put fans on notice earlier in the week that the Ohio Bobcats would be a tough “tune-up” game for his No. 13th ranked Kentucky Wildcats.
But nobody expected Oscar Tshiebwe to pick up two early fouls in the opening minute, missing the rest of the half, to set the stage for an early 11-4 Ohio lead before the Wildcats battled back with a big second half to win 77-59 on Friday night at Rupp Arena.
Keion Brooks led the Wildcats with 22 points, while TyTy Washington added 20. Davion Mintz and Sahvir Wheeler added 12 and 11 points, respectively. Washington also led the team in rebounds with 11 while Tshiebwe finished with 10 rebounds in 20 minutes.
Kentucky, 3-1, returns to action on Monday night against Albany at Rupp Arena.
Here are some of the key performers from Friday’s night win, and a couple of players that are trending the wrong direction.
Keion Brooks: Brooks was deadly with a much improved mid-range jumper on Friday night and showed the poise of a crafty veteran within Kentucky’s half-court offense. With a thin interior due to foul trouble, the Indiana native also was tough on the boards, grabbing eight rebounds. Brooks still makes too many careless turnovers, but just might be Kentucky’s most dependable player after the first four games.
Davion Mintz: Mintz continues to battle for playing time and showed the fight and offensive prowess to earn more minutes. The Creighton transfer is a hostile defender and can still knock down big shots. In fact, he may still be Kentucky’s best three-point threat and could find himself running the point more as the season continues. Mintz finished with 12 points and nine rebounds in 27 minutes of action.
TyTy Washington: Like most freshman, Washington has been a highlight reel of highs and lows this season. In the first half, he shot an air ball from beyond the three-point arc and made a terrible in-bounds pass that was one of 15 Kentucky turnovers. However, he can also score in bunches and finished with a double-double to lift Kentucky to a strong second half performance. He played a team-high 37 minutes and is well on his way to being one of the top players in the SEC this year.
Bryce Hopkins: Because Oscar Tshiebwe and Daimion Collins got into early foul trouble, Bryce Hopkins ended up playing a season-high 15 minutes, including much of the first half. He responded by stepping up to help the Cats escape the first half with a narrow lead and ultimately come away with a big win. The freshman forward had just three rebounds and six points over his first three games but finished tonight with seven boards and seven points. If Tshiebwe gets into foul trouble, it looks like Hopkins is most ready to step up right now, at least until Jacob Toppin and/or Lance Ware return.
Kellan Grady: After scoring more than 2,000 career points at Davidson, Grady was expected to be the team’s leading scorer and looked the part with a 19-point performance against Robert Morris. However, he was scoreless against Ohio and took just two shots. Calipari may have to run some set plays for Grady to help energize the offense when times get tough. Grady has to become a part of the half-court offense if Kentucky hopes to reach its full potential this season.
Daimion Collins: When Oscar Tshiebwe went out with two quick fouls, Daimion Collins was presented with a golden opportunity to play heavy minutes and show what he was made of vs. Ohio. Instead, Collins struggled again as he committed three first-half fouls and played just seven minutes and 24 seconds, including a big zero in the second half. This happened while Hopkins did step up and made a case for jumping ahead of Collins in the rotation. For a guy some projected to be a 2022 NBA Draft lottery pick, Collins has a ways to go before he’s even ready to play significant minutes in this frontcourt against non-cupcake teams.
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