Facing a wild card opponent in fellow blue blood North Carolina, Kentucky guard Sahvir Wheeler stacked the deck on Saturday in Las Vegas as the Wildcats drilled the Tar Heels 98-69 on Saturday at the CBS Sports Classic.
Originally scheduled to play Ohio State, 21st-ranked Kentucky had to quickly change gears on Friday as COVID-19 protocols brought the two storied programs together for the first time under new head coach Hubert Davis.
In the end, Kentucky dominated from start to finish and now takes an 8-2 record into Wednesday’s rivalry game against Louisville at Rupp Arena.
Wheeler led the Wildcats with 26 points, while Grady added 18 points on 5-of-7 shooting from three-point range. Oscar Tshiebwe finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Kentucky raced out to a 19-6 lead on back-to-back three pointers from Davion Mintz and Kellan Grady and two free throws from Jacob Toppin to cap a 10-0 run at the 12:53 mark in the first half as North Carolina missed seven straight shots.
Wheeler extended the lead to 35-17 after a short jumper before creating a turnover that resulted in a lay-up to give the Wildcats a 37-17 advantage.
The Tar Heels fought back with a 12-5 run of its own as Kentucky managed just one field goal over the final four minutes of the half as the Wildcats held a 40-29 lead at the break.
But it was all Kentucky in the second half as the Wildcats cruised to victory.
Sahvir Wheeler was simply fantastic on Saturday, having his way with Tar Heel defenders who struggled to contain a Kentucky offense that scored at will.
After struggling against Notre Dame, the Georgia transfer bounced back with one of his best games of the year, playing under control and getting easy buckets off the dribble. He also hit the short-range jumper when needed, played within himself, and was a disruptive defender, all of which are needed if Kentucky’s hopes to become an elite team.
The 5-foot-9 point guard led the SEC in assists last season and entered the game second in the nation with 7.7 assists per game. He was named All-SEC First Team in the preseason by coaches and the media and is also on the Bob Cousy Award preseason watch list.
Wheeler’s stat line included 26 points, 8 assists and 5 steals in a convincing win. The Wildcats also improved from three-point range on Saturday, going 8-for-15 (53.3%).