Coming off of an easy win against Kentucky Wesleyan, the Kentucky Wildcats expected to roll over the Miles College Golden Bears. That proved not to be the case as Miles named their first seven three-pointers to carry a seven point lead into halftime.
Thankfully, the Wildcats woke up at halftime to finish with an 80-71 victory. Kentucky finished 11/19 from three-point land, and Sahvir Wheeler put Kentucky on his back in the second half on both ends of the court. While his experience was enough to pull out a win in this one, it’s obvious that the Cats have a lot of work to do to beat a team like Duke.
Here is what you need to know from Kentucky’s near loss.
Kentucky got some good and bad news prior to tip-off against the Golden Bears. The good news was Jacob Toppin (shoulder) was cleared to play and did well tonight. The bad news was CJ Fredrick (leg) was ruled out again and now looks very questionable, if not unlikely to play vs. Duke.
Also, Oscar Tshiebwe started and played a heavy amount of minutes after being limited last week with a hip issue. After the game, John Calipari said that Tshiebwe hadn’t practiced for four days this week due to injury, but he looked fine tonight.
So while Fredrick may not play vs. the Blue Devils, the rest of the roster looks good to go.
Bad, bad, bad start.
In the first half, Miles made 11 three-point shots. At halftime, they were on pace to score 92 points. In Rupp Arena. Against Kentucky. That is not okay.
Kentucky also struggled early offensively. There was a lot of trying to play one-on-one and score off the dribble. There was very little ball movement, and that caused some bad shots that led to Kentucky trailing at the break.
Thankfully, Kentucky overcame a seven-point halftime deficit by dominating the Golden Bears in the second half on both ends of the floor.
What keeps the cows in? Not Kentucky’s D-fence.
To say Kentucky struggled defensively may be the biggest understatement of 2021, aside from that whole “COVID is over” thing in Spring. Sure, it is not normal to shoot 11-15, even when you are wide open. But that is the problem, the shooters from Miles were wide open.
The Wildcats played tighter defense in the second half. But there has to be balance there between playing good help defense, keeping your man in front of you, and closing out on three’s. That balance was not there on Friday, and it does not seem to be coming in the near future.
Wheeler brought it.
Sahvir Wheeler put this team on his back in the second half. He took the ball to the basket, he shot well from the perimeter, and he led the charge on the improved perimeter defense.
Wheeler looks like the experienced guard that this team needed. And as we all know, experience guards can carry teams in March. Even in this throw away exhibition game, Wheeler showing his ability to step up and lead is a good sign.
Yes, this game was ugly. Kentucky did not defend well. They did not share the ball like everyone hoped they would. And a Division II team came in and put up a heck of a fight.
But Wheeler led, Grady, Washington, and Allen shot well, Oscar rebounded, and Toppin and Brooks did Toppin and Brooks things. This team is going to be fine when they start to gel. At this point, we should be used to that happening in early Spring, right?
Don’t panic. Enjoy the process of watching this talented group come together. I know last season planted some doubt in John Calipari’s ability to bring a team together. But from my seat, this is a completely different situation with a team that has a ton of potential.