The Kentucky Wildcats’ final exhibition game against Division II Miles College was expected to provide one final burst of momentum for Tuesday’s season opener against Coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils.
Instead, Coach John Calipari and his staff had to stomach a hot-shooting Miles College team that dominated the opening half, before Kentucky fought back to close the preseason with an 80-71 win at Rupp Arena.
Miles College got off to a fast start, going 11/15 from three-point range as Kentucky struggled on both ends of the floor and trailed 46-39 at halftime. The Wildcats returned with a greater sense of urgency in the second half and finished the game shooting 57.9% from behind the arc.
Kentucky was led in scoring by Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington with 15 points each. Kellan Grady added 14 points, while Jacob Toppin had 12 points in his first action this season.
Kentucky, ranked 10th in the first AP Poll, will now travel to New York City’s Madison Square Garden to open the regular season on Tuesday night against 9th-ranked Duke at 9:30 pm ET on ESPN. The Champions Classic will also include Kansas vs. Michigan State at 7:30.
Kellan Grady: Grady kept the Wildcats in the game in the first half, scoring 11 points that included a perfect 3/3 from the three-point line. The veteran sharpshooter is a welcome addition to the Kentucky roster as he showed great poise under pressure and has the ability to score in bunches, giving the Wildcats an out when it faces an extended scoring drought. The threesome of Grady, Wheeler, and Washington will be hard for teams to handle this season.
Sahvir Wheeler: The Georgia transfer never panicked as Kentucky got down early and struggled offensively. His veteran leadership will pay off big this season and his ability to get steals and lead the break in transition means the Wildcats can change momentum quickly. Wheeler showed a much better shooting stroke on Friday, hitting two threes and taking better shots within the half-court offense. Both Wheeler and Washington need to come up big to give the Wildcats a chance against Duke next week.
Jacob Toppin: Toppin returned to action for the first time since being sidelined with a shoulder injury and quickly made his mark with 12 points and four rebounds in 16 minutes of action. Toppin has a high basketball IQ, has a nose for the ball and gets to the rim with ease. The 6-foot-9 forward picked up where he left off last season after averaging 7.7 points and 4.4 rebounds over the team’s final seven games. Look for him to crack the starting lineup at some point this season.
Lance Ware: Calipari has been holding open auditions for a back-up center to rest Oscar Tshiebwe, who’s battled a hip injury. Ware and Daimion Collins both struggled in that role on Friday on top of some interior defense concerns that were exposed in the opening exhibition against Kentucky Wesleyan. Although Ware is limited offensively, he’s a physical player who needs to fight for rebounds and loose balls to stay on the floor. He played just 11 minutes on Friday night and did not score.
Daimion Collins: The 6-foot-9 freshman is still trying to find his place in the rotation and struggled on the offensive end after going 0-for-3 from the field. The 5-star recruit was named the Texas Gatorade Player of the Year a year ago after averaging 35.2 points as a high school senior. His offense will come in time, but he will need to adapt to the speed of the game and play better defense to make a significant contribution this season. Collins also failed to score in 12 minutes of action and made two turnovers while getting pushed around in the paint.