Viva Las Vegas!
The game had it all, although it was not the opponent the Kentucky Wildcats had planned on playing. There were bright lights, there was a national television audience, and there were two of the most revered names in college basketball tipping off. The University of Kentucky and the University of North Carolina.
For the Cats it was a week after a game, for so many reasons, was one that they will tend to forget. It was a bounce back week that the Wildcats desperately needed. It was a week after the state has begun the long cleanup process but was ready for a distraction and something to rally around. It has been a long week before stepping out onto the stage.
When you have a head coach that is a hall of famer, the expectations are always high and John Calipari’s adjustments to the UK offense resulted in an overwhelming 98-69 win over North Carolina on Saturday night.
However - What happened in Vegas cannot stay in Vegas.
The change in offense found Cal making an early season correction and moving back toward the offense that we anticipated would be the best with this team. The “AirCal” offense allows the team to use and maximize the strengths of the players and positions the team for success. We saw that on display in Las Vegas.
Over the past few games, the team had understandably been pushing and pounding the ball inside to Oscar Tshiebwe. The opponents and the game conditions made that work, but as the competition gets better and the SEC Conference play is looming, the Kentucky Coach has started to tweak into the offense what we may get to see for the rest of the year.
The goal is to try to score into the 80s each game, spread the floor, and allow Sahvir Wheeler, TyTy Washington, Kellan Grady and Davion Mintz to spot-up more often before slashing toward the rim. This creates a win-win scenario because it gives Tshiebwe more freedom to operate underneath, frees him up for his short to mid-range jump shot, and lets him clean up the offensive boards. Even if Oscar gets in foul trouble, as he did against North Carolina, the rest of the Kentucky bigs are more than able to maintain the paint.
As Cal often says, they won’t have to make all of their outside shots, but they do have to make some of them. The shooters are good, the bench is strong, and this team can make outside shots.
The Tar Heels found a hungry Wildcat team that started fast and didn’t slow down. Outside and inside they controlled the game, and they pushed the pace. They were led in scoring by Sahvir Wheeler with 26 points, and Oscar Tshiebwe had another double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
For Kentucky fans this was the perfect game after a long week of struggle and signaled that there is life and hope for this team. As any fan knows, hope is important, it always matters, this year more than ever.
What happened in Vegas hasn’t stayed in Vegas, the Louisville Cardinals saw what happened. Here we go!