The Kentucky Wildcats entered Friday night’s competition as 12-point favorites against Ohio, a game the home team ultimately won 77-59.
That spread may have seemed low against an early-season mid-major, but this is a Bobcats team with several veterans from last year’s NCAA Tournament team that upset 4th-seeded Virginia.
Early on in this one, the Bobcats lived up to the hype while leading much of the first half. Part of the reason for that was first half-foul trouble for the Cats, as Kentucky saw two star players in Oscar Tshiebwe and Sahvir Wheeler miss much of the first 20 minutes with two fouls. And the Cats were already missing Lance Ware and Jacob Toppin due to injury.
Kentucky would rally thanks to bench production from guys like Bryce Hopkins, Davion Mintz and Dontaie Allen, guys that don’t always play significant minutes. John Calipari stated that this was a good learning experience having to learn how to adapt without two main players and two key backups sidelined.
The second half saw the Cats take off thanks to Keion Brooks scoring eight of the 10 first points of the second half. Brooks would finish with a season-high 22 points and eight rebounds on the night.
TyTy Washington finished with 20 points and 11 boards for his first career double-double. Tshiebwe also pulled in 10 second-half rebounds to help the Cats pull away with an 18-point victory. Ben Vander Plas finished with 19 for Ohio.
All in all, Kentucky looked impressive against an impressive team.
Now, here is a recap of what Calipari and select players said after the game via UK Athletics.
JOHN CALIPARI: So, let me say this: Bryce Hopkins, without him playing we don’t win the game because we are down 15 at the half.
He fought. Still has things to learn; he fought. Daimion (Collins) in the first half got exhausted. All we were telling him to do was run because we were going to throw you lobs. He got a couple and then he stopped running to the rim because he couldn’t breathe. But he’s got a chance.
Keion (Brooks Jr.) shot twos. I kept telling him, Why are you shooting threes? Shoot twos. TyTy (Washington Jr.), why are you shooting threes? Shot twos.
These guys at the two point line are like 60%, 65%, which means you’ve got to shoot 40% from the three, and if you’re not doing that, you might as well take twos.
So, Oscar (Tshiebwe) getting the two quick fouls, first one was — I’ll watch it on tape, but I already know what I’ll see. And then he gets 10 rebounds in the second half. Doesn’t care about scoring. Just goes and chases down balls.
Sahvir (Wheeler) played well.
Today Davion (Mintz) played better. Kellan (Grady) didn’t play bad; Davion played better, so he played more.
Again, I called the NCAA to see if we could put more minutes on the clock so I could get guys more minutes and they told me, no, you don’t get 40 minutes in a game.
So if someone else plays well, you play less. Let me say that team, I almost thought, what in the world did I do playing these guys? You need tune-up games. Some teams only play tune-up games. We don’t.
But, we do have some tune-ups. We have to have them on the schedule. But this game really showed us something. You know, I thought we got into their legs, at least that’s what we were trying to do. We keep flying up and down the court.
So proud of guys. We out rebounded them by a bunch. 15 turnovers. Three of our guys had 12.
Q. I know Oscar getting early fouls is not what you wanted. Did that early adversity kind of galvanize the team? Do you think they grew up some tonight?
JOHN CALIPARI: They were really saying good things in the huddle. Really good stuff. You know, you guys know if any of you listen to me over the years, most of you haven’t, but we try to empower our team.
We know if they were empowered we have a real team. This team a beginning to do it. They talk to each other. You know, Sahvir holds guys accountable. What I did with Keion, he was unbelievable in the first half.
Started the second half letting this kid catch the ball and kind of going through. You’re out. You’re not doing that. I’m not looking at that guy. The other guy I see is one of the best players in the country.
The other guy that started the half, I’m not seeing it. Now, by saying that and being honest, people may be sad or mad. It’s just being honest. Why did you take him out? Because his level of intensity went down.
But that’s who we need him to be. Make twos. Don’t need you to make threes. If you make one or two, fine. But that’s not what you’re playing for.
I told him, ‘you like getting 22? I know you’re kind of sad you didn’t make a three. Hit 22 points; don’t worry about it. ‘
Q. They wanted to make Sahvir go right, neutralize Oscar, not leave Kellan. Those were at the top of their board and they do that in the first half.
JOHN CALIPARI: Oscar got neutralized, but it wasn’t by that.
Q. Right. How good was it for you to see the three guys that have taken you to this point when they’re out of it, those other dudes can step up and deliver?
JOHN CALIPARI: I’m telling, you without Bryce, without Daimion playing in the first half, we don’t win the game. We don’t get a chance to get separation.
And if we got separation it would’ve been to tie up the game like five minutes to go, four minutes to go. Wouldn’t have been what it was.
The biggest thing for both of them is they fought. Daimion got exhausted. I told them they have tomorrow off and I said, If I’m you, I get in the treadmill and I go hard. Bryce, I would do the same.
Hopefully we have some guys coming back, Lance (Ware) and Jacob (Toppin). Hopefully start coming back.
Q. You mentioned Bryce there. Because of the foul trouble he had to play a different role, using him on the wing mostly. How much is he maybe more suited for that right now in his development?
JOHN CALIPARI: Probably is more suited for that right now. He probably is. We’ve just got to get — when you’re a freshman you never play your man before he catches the ball. You’re just kind of moving around. When he catches it, you try to play him. He gave up three threes in the first half. That’s nine points.
But he fought. He rebounded. He came up with plays. But it’s just getting the reps and getting out there and realizing the intensity that you got to play with.
The reason is everybody that we play, it’s their Super Bowl. The biggest game of the year. Everybody. They can all say what they want, that’s what happens.
Normally the team beats us, the next game they either lose or play like crap. So you don’t fight and you don’t play with unbelievable intensity every game you lose. You lose games.
But the other side is the toughness. I like our toughness. How about TyTy? 11 rebounds. I think he was one for seven from the three. Is that what it was?
Q. One for six?
JOHN CALIPARI: He was one for six from the three. He gets 20 points and 11 rebounds. And he only took 15 shots to get 20 points. Think of that.
He fought. He fought. So did Davion. He fought.
Q. I think you overestimate how sad we get when you tell the truth. Dontaie (Allen) got in there first half. He hit a big three, got a rebound. How is he doing in practice and how would you assess him?
JOHN CALIPARI: He did better. Here is what happened. I’ve got to get him talking. The same thing I did with Keion, that I’m holding you accountable. You know what we need you to do, and we talked about it for two days. The same with him. If he doesn’t talk — do you remember when guys came together and they were getting wide open?
Well, he was involved in that. I kept saying, You have to speak. He’s a quiet kid, and let me say this, one of the greatest kids I’ve coached. He is. And we’re trying to do everything.
I left him in when he made a shot and when he came over I said, Listen, you have to talk. They’re getting you in these screening situations and they’re slipping them. You have to talk.
But he’s a great kid. I love coaching him. I just got to get him to defend. We got a couple guys in a normal game we’re playing like we did with Derek Willis. We’re calling red. They get it. Everybody knows. Here is what it does for the player that you’re doing red for.
His confidence now defensively, instead of, Oh, my gosh, he knows his teammates are all there to help him now because we’re yelling it, red, red, red. Now he has more confidence.
There is such a thing as defensive confidence. If you’re standing there and you back away and a guy just shoots it, you have no confidence. You’re afraid he’s going to dribble by and you’re going to be embarrassed and you can’t recover and blah, blah, blah, blah.
If you have confidence defensively, you’re taking away a jumper, say, and if this dude drives I’m going to be in front of him. But playing him before he catches and all those kind of things, but he’s doing good.
Now, again, some of the guards in front of him are playing better.
Q. You mentioned TyTy’s rebounding. I think you had six guys other than Oscar with more than six rebounds. Is his approach to that becoming a little contagious with some of his teammates?
JOHN CALIPARI: No, because you don’t want to go near him. You get hit by something, you’ll be getting knocked out.
But, no, what I keep saying is teams are going to spend two guys to keep him off the glass, which means someone else has got to rebound.
Q. Speaking of Oscar, last night Bob Huggins took a shot at him. Called him an alleged All-American who didn’t like that they tried to make him to do things hard and that’s why he transferred. What’s your relationship with Bob right now? I know you’re friends.
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, we’re still friends. I don’t know exactly what he said or how he said it. You’re telling me but I don’t know the context.
But it’s hard to say he doesn’t work hard. He’s averaging 20 rebounds a game. He works hard. And the biggest thing he can do, and you figured it out, what? Kid can also shoot.
We’ve got to get him a little better balanced in the post. We’ve got to give him a couple things he can do in the post. He’s still struggling a little bit.
But in pick and rolls and rolls and throwback and throw it to him, he’s just got to get it to the rim quicker. I even told him, Just dunk the ball. Forget about a move. Just go and try to dunk it. If he blocks it, he blocks it.
Q. Been a long time since Rupp has been that loud. How nice is it to have that boost back?
JOHN CALIPARI: I said the 19,000 tickets that are out, if you’re not coming to the games, give them to somebody. Call the local grade school and see if the principal wants to give them away.
Again, I don’t blame anybody for not coming to the games because of COVID, because of the construction, and traffic, because now you can watch it on TV. And you’re older. We got an old crowd. Not old, old; old, old, old. (Laughter.)
If they’ve got to walk 200 yards to get in a door to get in the arena to walk another 100 yards, you would do it? I wouldn’t do it. I just know me. What if it rained? I’m not walking 200 yards to get in the building.
So I get it. Here is my point: Give them away. This was great environment for people to be in and for all of us, these kids and our – we’ve got the best fans in the country.
Just don’t sit on the tickets. Give them back to the university. Maybe we’ll do something with different schools or give them out for awards. They’re bought already, so give them away.
I guess they’re selling some packages. You know, no one wants to do a tune-up game and you look at some schools, I and, say it again, that’s all they have is tune-up games.
Yeah, but that’s not Kentucky. Kentucky should play the Lakers and the Suns. Okay. But they’ve got packages now. So, if you want to go — here was the other thing. I think we need to play some Sunday games instead of Friday. You know what I’m saying?
Why all these Friday games? Well, was it football? It is TV? Play Sunday then. I mean, I think, again, weekday — is there still football for high schools?
You know, I mean, there is — style of play maybe. They don’t like us to play this fast and press and shoot and do it. Come on.
I mean, and I’ll say this: Again, I don’t know, but if you get a chance to buy tickets and you can commit to saying I’ll buy them and I just want to make sure I can buy them every year, because it will be like normal, we get through this COVID.
A little worried about the winter. I keep hearing stuff. But what you saw tonight, you know. I’m proud of our fans. I always am. Always am. We got the best.
Q. You mentioned that Oscar didn’t score, yet he was going for rebounds like crazy. What does that say to you about him?
JOHN CALIPARI: He’s great. He was so happy in there. He’s smiling ear to ear. He’s so happy to be with this group. Kind of like CJ (Fredrick) said, ‘I’m sorry I got hurt’. What? ‘I want to play with this group. I love this group of guys.’
I think Oscar feels the same way. We’ve got great kids. We’ve got great kids. Thanksgiving we’ll go and they’ll serve food and do stuff and do it with pride. You know, obviously what we do at Christmas for families.
But these are — they’re competitors. They get it. They understand. And they play — I mean Oscar, I’m playing for all these people here. I’m working this hard for the fans. That’s a heck of a statement, and his teammates.
#10, Davion Mintz, Graduate Student, Guard
On how it was to experience the fans at Rupp Arena for the first time…
“It was super fun. I mean, just to be out there was like having like an extra player out there. These people really care about us and we can feel the energy and it just goes straight out to the court. So I really appreciate all the fans that we have and come out. I mean, it’s all 40 minutes from the tip to finish so I appreciate you guys.”
On what it says about the team that they were up at half without Oscar Tshiebwe…
“Yeah, you have to be resilient. I mean, those guys, if you notice that you watch the film. You know Oscar has been a beast, Sahvir has been a beast, and teams are going to game plan for that. We knew eventually he’d be targeted and you know, guys will go after Sahvir and try to pull them out of the game early. But, they were our biggest cheerleaders, so it was no surprise that they had a good turnaround like they did because they were super supportive. During the first half Sahvir came into the locker room still laughing, smiling. It was a two-point game and he was like, ‘Yo, we’re good. We’re good.’ Oscar was still motivating guys. So, it’s no surprise when they play the way they do.”
On what the locker room was like at half time to create a turnaround in the game…
“Yeah, just positivity. Like honestly, this time this team really doesn’t get rattled. I think it’s specifically because of our bond, guys are like, ‘Bro, we’re good.’ You believe that guy when he says that because you know him and it’s not a front. We really believe in each other. This is the best place to play at the American college basketball level. We know guys are going to come out with super good energy and play hard. So, it is something we have to deal with and adjust to every single game so we just believe in each other.”
#, TyTy Washington Jr., Freshman, Guard
On his level of play and looking more comfortable after each game…
“I’m just getting more comfortable, staying in the gym, standing the gym. Like I said before, the team trusts me, the coaches trust me. I know that they might ask for me to get an opportunity to go out there and play and make the best of my opportunities. I feel like every game I’m going to keep improving and getting better and more comfortable as we go.”
On the previous games being uncomfortable for him...
“Nothing really was uncomfortable; I was just fresh out of high school into college game. The transition of just physicality, speed, stuff like that was a big adjustment for me.”
On what Coach Cal said to him after his first game...
“Well, he told me I’m going to have games like that, where the ball just doesn’t go in and so, how else am I going to affect the game, offensively and defensively? He pretty much told me to be who I am, be myself, to stay in the gym. Keep working, not every night is going to be your night. So, keep your head up high and move on to the next one, which is pretty much what I’ve been doing.
On Ohio targeting a few players and leaving a couple more open...
“Oscar and Sahvir both went out early with foul troubles. Sahvir is the leader with the ball in his hands. He gets us our spots and all that. Oscar, he does what he does, he scores and rebounds. With both not being on the floor, me and Keion (Brooks) took it upon ourselves. Keion (Brooks), Kellan and I were the three starters remaining. So, we took it upon ourselves to come in and pick up our play. Then when Davion (Mintz) came in, he knows exactly what he’s doing. So, he came in and we kept flowing until it was time for Oscar and Sahvir to come back.”
You out-rebounded Oscar tonight. Is that your proudest accomplishment?
“Yeah, I’m no machine, I’m TyTy! In high school I rebounded average, like seven rebounds. It was pretty good to be out there tonight, finally rebounding again. With Oscar not on the floor, you can see a lot of balls are going a lot of different places now. So, it was a lot of opportunity for me to get in there and rebound.”
#12, Keion Brooks Jr., Junior, Forward
On playing Ohio University...
“We expected them to be good. That was our focus coming into the game. This is a quality team that if we don’t play well, they can beat us. They’ve got some really good players and they can shoot the ball really well.”
On Bryce Hopkins’ performance…
“Bryce played extremely well in the first half: rebounding and being physical gave us a lot of energy. They also crash the glass pretty well offensively, that’s a clip back. I told him ‘you’re a good player, we’re going to need you to win games.’ This was one of those games, it was his opportunity to step up. I’m proud of him.
Here are the postgame notes and milestones via UK Athletics.
Team Records and Series Notes
- Kentucky is on its first official winning streak of the season with its third consecutive victory to get to 3-1 on the year. Ohio suffered its first loss to fall to 3-1.
- UK now leads the series 15-1, including 7-0 in games in Lexington, Kentucky.
- It was the Wildcats’ eighth straight victory in the series.
- This was the final game for Kentucky in the Kentucky Classic, a multi-team event. The Wildcats went 3-0 in the event.
- There were a season-high 19,045 fans in Rupp Arena on Friday.
- Next up: Kentucky will continue its season-long seven-game home stand on Monday when it hosts Albany at 7 p.m. in Rupp Arena. The game will be streamed live on SEC Network+/ESPN+.
- Tied at 48 with 14:07 remaining, Kentucky went on a 29-9 run for a 77-57 lead. Ohio did not get a 2-point basket or free throw for 14 minutes before ending the game with a breakaway dunk.
- Limiting Ohio to 59 points, UK is now 191-9 (95.5%) under John Calipari when holding opponents to 63 points or fewer, including all three games of the Kentucky Classic.
- Kentucky dominated the rebounding 53-17 for a plus-36 margin, leading to a 17-6 advantage on second-chance points.
- The plus-36 margin was not only the most of the Calipari era, surpassing a plus-31 margin vs. NJIT on Nov. 14, 2015, it’s the largest rebounding margin since the Wildcats outrebounded Vanderbilt by 39 (57-18) on Jan. 3, 1998, in a 71-62 win.
- The 53 boards for the Wildcats are the eighth most during the Calipari era and the most since snagging 54 vs. Richmond on Nov. 29, 2020.
- Kentucky grabbed more offensive rebounds (19) than Ohio did total rebounds (17).
- UK made 16 of 17 at the foul line, 94.1%. UK is now 86.4% for the season.
- Outlasting the Bobcats in the second half, bench play proved decisive as the Wildcats won bench points 24-9.
- Oscar Tshiebwe, Keion Brooks Jr. and TyTy Washington Jr. were named to the Kentucky Classic All-Tournament Team.
- Tshiebwe was tabbed the MVP after averaging 12.7 points and 15.3 rebounds during the three games. With 10 rebounds tonight, he has double-figure boards in all four games this season.
- Brooks averaged 15 points and 5.3 rebounds during the tournament.
- Washington averaged 15.3 points and 5.7 rebounds during the event.
- Brooks enjoyed one of the best games of his career with 22 points and eight rebounds in 37 minutes.
- His 22 points were one shy of his career high (23 on Feb. 6, 2021).
- He was 9 of 18 from the floor, making several mid-range jumpers.
- Washington was sensational Friday with his first career double-double, scoring 20 points and 11 rebounds while adding five assists – season highs in all three categories.
- According to ESPN Stats & Info, he became the third Wildcat under Calipari to amass 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a game, joining Isaiah Briscoe and James Young.
- Davion Mintz reached double figures for the second time this season with 12 points to go along with a career-high-tying nine rebounds, plus three assists.
- Bryce Hopkins provided a great spark in the first half with seven points and seven rebounds.
- Jacob Toppin (shoulder) and Lance Ware (ankle) did not play because of injury. Both are day-to-day.
- Toppin has missed three straight games and Ware has missed the last two.
- CJ Fredrick also missed and is likely to miss the 2021-22 season after undergoing surgery on Tuesday to repair a hamstring injury.
- Calipari improved to 342-94 at UK.
- Calipari has a 787-234 all-time on-court record.
- UK is 278-55 in games vs. unranked Associated Press competition.
- Calipari notched his first win in his first career meeting vs. Ohio.
- Kentucky is 191-17 in Rupp Arena under Calipari.
In the First Half
- Kentucky started Sahvir Wheeler, TyTy Washington Jr., Kellan Grady, Keion Brooks Jr. and Oscar Tshiebwe for the fourth straight game and is now 3-1 with that lineup.
- Brooks scored on the game’s opening possession after the Wildcats won the tip.
- Tshiebwe, Kentucky’s leading scorer and leading rebounder entering Friday (18.3 points and 18.7 rebounds per game), picked up two fouls on the game’s second and third possessions and had to go to the bench early. He did not play the rest of the first half.
- Daimion Collins immediately subbed for him as the first sub of the game and then quickly picked up two fouls of his own before the first media timeout, severely testing Kentucky’s front-court depth early in the game with Toppin and Ware out with injuries.
- Ohio played with a purpose from the start. With Tshiebwe on the bench and making five of their first six shots, the Bobcats raced to an 11-4 lead.
- Just as the Wildcats clawed back within 12-10, Ohio outscored Kentucky 8-2 over the next two minutes to take a 20-12 advantage going into the under-12 timeout.
- Jason Carter had seven of Ohio’s first 20 points.
- Down 22-14, UK reeled off eight straight points over the next three minutes to draw even at 24-24 with 8:11 left.
- UK took its first lead at 26-25 on a pair of Brooks free throws at the 7:02 mark, the Wildcats’ first lead since 2-0. With another bucket, UK completed a 14-3 run to get to 28-25.
- Right back came Ohio, most notably Ben Vander Plas. The stretch forward continued to torch the Wildcats from 3 with two more treys to take a 38-34 lead with 3:37 left in the half.
- Vander Plas scored 13 points in the first half with three 3-pointers and five rebounds.
- Kentucky finished the half on a 6-0 run to take a 40-38 lead into the halftime locker room.
- Brooks was the veteran the Wildcats needed with UK’s first-half foul trouble. He posted 12 points and five rebounds in 18 minutes before halftime.
- Hopkins, who entered the game having played 29 combined minutes in the first three games, contributed 14 important minutes in the first half with the Wildcats in foul trouble. He posted seven points and seven rebounds in the first 20 minutes.
- Despite the first-half absence of the nation’s leading rebounder (Tshiebwe) for virtually all of the first half, the Wildcats still outrebounded the Bobcats 26-11.
In the Second Half
- Kentucky started the second half with the same starting five: Wheeler, Washington, Grady, Brooks and Tshiebwe.
- Ohio scored six straight points to start the half and retook the lead, 44-40.
- Brooks picked up right where he left off in the first half and scored six straight points during an 8-0 run – all three jumpers from the left corner – to put Kentucky up 48-46 with 14:31 to play.
- The Wildcats took their largest lead of the game with the biggest run of the game, a 9-0 spurt midway through the second half.
- The defining sequence that sent Big Blue Nation to its feet was an offensive rebound by Davion Mintz for a kickout 3 to Washington.
- After a quick shot and miss by Ohio at the other end, Mintz grabbed the defensive rebound and raced the length of the court for a 57-48 lead with 11:11 left, forcing Ohio to call timeout.
- Up 61-54, Washington reeled off five straight points, followed by another Brooks jumper for a 7-0 run to take a 68-54 lead with 6:53 to go.
- All totaled, after being tied at 48 with 14:07 remaining, UK went on a 29-9 run and did not allow a two-point basket or free throw until Ohio got a breakaway dunk to end the game.
- Tshiebwe grabbed 10 rebounds in the second half, while Washington and Brooks scored 12 and 10 points, respectively.