The North Florida Ospreys flew into Lexington to find some Kentucky Wildcats waiting for them in Rupp Arena. After the final buzzer sounded, the score was Kentucky 86 – North Florida 52.
Obviously, there are a lot of things going well when you defeat an opponent by 34 points. If these series of home games have taught us anything it is that this team has all the pieces and parts they need for a successful season. Learning to put it all together for a full 40 minutes has been elusive but there is something that has become very clear about this Wildcat team – this team works best from the middle of the floor.
The Point and Paint Strength is the backbone of where the Cats find their fight from.
The Point – that is Sahvir Wheeler
The Paint – belongs to none other than Oscar Tshiebwe
Against North Florida Wheeler had a career high in assists with 14 and added 12 points. He quarterbacked the team, pushed the ball up the court, frustrated the Ospreys with the soft left-handed drive that he frequently uses, and set the tempo for the team as they let the game come back to them after trading buckets for much of the first half of play.
It is Wheeler who sets the tone for how much the ball will move and makes sure that his backcourt running mate, Ty Ty Washington gets his hands on the ball as well. The backcourt of Washington and Wheeler combined for a solid 26 points as Washington picked up another 14 in this contest, adding to his impressive start to the season.
The back-and-forth early portion of the game disappeared as the Wildcats went on a run and took a workhorse approach in the paint during the second half. At the heart on the inside of the inside out offense is Oscar Tshiebwe, who added another 16 rebounds to his already impressive total for the year, along with 12 points. Altering shots, contesting for every missed shot, and controlling the paint was all the Cats needed to pull away from the North Florida opposition.
Building off the strength of the point and paint, the rest of the team is freed up to play and use their skills as the game unfolds. In addition to Wheeler, Washington and Tshiebwe being in double figures. Daimion Collins scored 12 points along with 6 boards adding to the 14 points and 7 rebounds of Dontaie Allen. Kellan Grady nearly added to the double figure scorers but stopped just short with 8 points.
Some things have become clearer during this stretch of games at Rupp. This team is beginning to play better together. Talent was never going to be an issue; they are a gifted group of athletes.
Developing into a team takes time, and they seem to be on a fast track to do so, which is going to be very important as the grind of the SEC schedule beckons. It would be nice to see a complete 40 minutes from this team, they have yet to come out hot in the first five minutes of a game yet.
The defense is continuing to get better. Lapses still happen but are becoming fewer it appears and the recovery time is quicker. But the identity of the team is the biggest takeaway from where we are right now.
The battling underneath, the run and gun style of play, the ability to move the ball from the inside out, and the ability to score from the outside, midrange and threes, are all starting to fall into place.
When and if the Cats have a full lineup of players, it will be fun to watch how Coach Cal divvies up the minutes. (This game Mintz and Brooks were both out of the lineup)
The Point and Paint strength up the middle has anchored the team and will be necessary as the team moves to the post-Thanksgiving holiday schedule. Central Michigan is next on Monday.