The Wildcats started fast and never looked back. They were led in scoring by Sahvir Wheeler with 26 points, and Oscar Tshiebwe had another double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Kentucky looks like a complete basketball team in the blowout victory. Let’s just hope they saved some for Louisville next week.
Here is what you need to know from the CBS Sports Classic.
Wheeler Bounces Back
After a very rough outing against Notre Dame, Sahvir Wheeler showed up in Las Vegas ready to show that his previous performance was an anomaly. He started out the game on fire, playing lock down defense, finishing in transition, and commanding the court from the point guard position. On Saturday, he looked like the point guard Kentucky needs him to be.
Wheeler finished the game with 26 points, 8 assists, and 4 steals. His performance is key for this team to reach their potential. And he looked like an All-SEC player on Saturday, which is exactly what the coaching staff expects from him.
Against the Fighting Irish last week, this entire team lacked energy. They seemed lethargic on defense and uninterested on offense. Saturday’s game against North Carolina could not have been more different.
As previously mentioned, Wheeler came out on fire and dominated the back court. But he was not alone in his hustle. From the starting five to everyone off the bench, the energy on both ends of the court was incredible. They played this game like they wanted to win, which is something we have not see much of from this group.
Kentucky’s outside shooting was much improved on Saturday. They shot 54.2% from the floor and 53.3% from three, which was a world of difference from what we saw in South Bend last week. This group does not have to be the Golden State Warriors every game, but they do have to shoot well enough to show an outside threat. And that is exactly what they did against the Tar Heels.
With and Without Oscar
In the first half, Oscar Tshiebwe was on pace for 40 rebounds (he had seven rebounds in seven minutes) before picking up his second foul. He finished the first half on the bench. However, the Wildcats did not fall apart without their star center.
Daimion Collins came in with energy. Lance Ware entered and blocked shots and defended well. The rest of the team picked up the slack offensively and the Wildcats continued to dominate the glass even without Oscar.
Yes, this would have been an easier game with Oscar not in foul trouble. He was defending Armando Bacot well and owning the boards. But it is important to know that this team can still compete when he is not available. That is a good sign for this group, and a great sign going into the new year.
Now, let’s celebrate!