The Kentucky Wildcats dominated the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Wednesday night by a score of 95-60.
The Toppers took the Louisville Cardinals’ place on the schedule as the Cards had to postpone the game due to COVID-related issues within the program. This was on the heels of the Toppers knocking off the Cards in Bowling Green on Saturday.
Kentucky brought the intensity from the start as the change in opponent just three days before Christmas didn’t mess with their psyche at all. While many assumed they might not get up as much for WKU as they would for the hated Cards, UK knew they had to come out prepared in this one.
Kentucky’s quick start allowed them to get up by as much as 16 in the first half, but a late drought resulted in the halftime lead of 37-29. After the break, UK dominated in every sense of the word. WKU has a solid squad, but they were no match for the Cats.
It’s fun to think about how bad the score would have been if it was UK versus UofL, but we’ll most likely have to wait for next season.
Next up, the Cats will get a week-long break before taking on the Missouri Tigers in Lexington next Wednesday night.
Grady has found his groove
Fans have been begging Kellan Grady to shoot the ball more since game one. The Davidson transfer has been a bit shy throughout the start of his time in Lexington.
However, that’s changed over the course of the last two games. Against the North Carolina Tar Heels, Grady poured in 18 points on 6-8 shooting from the field and 5-7 from deep. In this one, Grady lit it up as he put up 12 points in the first half alone on his way to a season-high in points scored in a game.
Tshiebwe is Kentucky’s MVP so far, but Grady takes this team to another level with his scoring ability. He’ll have his off-shooting nights where he needs to hold back a bit, but that time isn't now, and he just needs to continue to let it rip.
Grady wasn't the only guard got hot in this one, though, as TyTy Washington had a 20-point performance to go with six assists on extremely efficient shooting from the field. This was definitely a fun one for the backcourt.
Toppin may be inching his way ahead of Brooks
It’s no secret that the four position has been UK’s weakest spot to date this season. Keion Brooks has been solid but unspectacular. He has a good midrange game and good athleticism, but he doesn't provide much else.
Jacob Toppin, on the other hand, is a freak athlete and elite defender. Both guys are versatile tweeners, but Toppin can do more when he’s in the game, and he showed that on Wednesday night. He doesn't score as well as Brooks, but he can defend, pass, and rebound better, while making awesome highlight plays that invigorate the crowd.
WKU’s 7’5 big man is the real deal
I don't normally discuss other team’s players at length in this post, but I have to give credit where credit’s due. It’s shocking to see a 7’5 center walk out on the court for Western, but it’s even more shocking just how good this kid is.
Jamarion Sharp is a junior college transfer from Hopkinsville, Kentucky. I’m not sure how good or bad he was coming out of high school, but he’s agile, athletic, and very coordinated for a player his size.
Sharp may have made himself a lot of money in this game against National Player of the Year candidate Oscar Tshiebwe and the Cats. Of course, he can dunk the ball on just about anyone, but he also showed a smooth free-throw and jump shot. His shot-blocking ability is quite possibly the best in the country.
For some reason, UK was determined to continue attacking him, and he denied them almost every time. Tshiebwe still got his fair share on the glass and scoring wise, but it wasn't easy. Sharp flirted with a triple double with close to double-digit blocked shots. This is a fun player to watch as the season progresses as he had a big coming out party on national television.
Big O continues his domination
I mean, we didn't expect anything different, right? In all seriousness, it was definitely fun to watch Tshiebwe take on Sharp, who has eight inches on Kentucky’s big man. Despite struggling very early on due to Sharp’s length, Big O figured it out on his way to another incredible performance.
Tshiebwe logged yet another double double as he grabbed 20+ rebounds for the third time this season. In fact, Big O set the Rupp Arena record for rebounds when he grabbed his 24th with 7:39 left to play in the game. He finished with an incredible 28 rebounds. It’s unbelievable the level Tshiebwe has played at this season, and it’s fair to say he’s firmly in the National Player of the Year discussion.
The offense is clicking on all cylinders
Well, I never thought I'd look back on the loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish as a good thing, but here we are. Kentucky struggled big time in South Bend, and it was enough for Calipari to finally cut some guys’ minutes and change the offense completely.
In the last two games, Kentucky has looked like a different team offensively. They’re spacing the floor. They’re pushing the ball and running. They’re not force-feeding the post every time down the court. And, as mentioned above, Grady is finally finding his footing.
It was fair to wonder whether the UNC game was an aberration or the real deal, but I think this game is confirmation. Coming into this season, we knew UK had more upperclassmen and shooters than ever before in the Calipari era, but they weren’t showing it early on.
They’re certainly clicking now, and it seems while Calipari has figured out the offense and rotation, the players have figured out their roles as well. We are on the cusp of this team going from good to great.
All in all, it was an excellent performance by the Cats. They came out ready to play despite the rivalry game being flipped on its head at the last minute. In a fun game where $100,000 was donated to the Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund, the Cats rewarded the BBN in their own way.
Go Cats! And happy holidays, Big Blue Nation!