Despite a sluggish start, the Kentucky Wildcats found a way to extend its winning streak to seven straight after holding off Southern 76-64 on Tuesday night at Rupp Arena.
No. 10th-ranked Kentucky trailed 9-2 early as the Wildcats struggled in the opening half with 10 turnovers, cold shooting, and foul trouble as leading scorers TyTy Washington and Oscar Tshiebwe spent most of the half on the bench. However, Kellan Grady and Davion Mintz picked up the slack, connecting on five three-pointers to give the Wildcats a 38-34 halftime lead.
Southern would hang tough in the second half, cutting the lead to 57-51 with 8:10 remaining, but Kentucky extended the lead to 64-53 on a Washington free throw, back-to-back buckets by Tshiebwe, and a Washington lay up to create enough separation to seal the win.
Tshiebwe led the Wildcats with 23 points and 11 rebounds, while Washington played a solid second half to finish with 14 points.
Southern, now 3-6, is coached by former Kentucky great Sean Woods, who served as the head coach at Morehead State from 2012 through 2016. The Indianapolis native played four seasons at UK along with teammates Richie Farmer, Deron Feldhaus, and John Pelphrey, all members of the 1991-92 team affectionately known as the “Unforgettables.”
Kentucky, 7-1, will travel to South Bend on Saturday to face Notre Dame at 5:15 pm ET.
Can’t go against Oscar Tshiebwe tonight, as he racked up a double-double with 23 points — 18 of which came in the second half as Kentucky struggled to keep Southern at bay — to go with 11 boards and four blocks.
Big O continues to establish himself as one of the best frontcourt players in America and a potential contender for SEC Player of the Year.
Also, while Tshiebwe was a one-man wrecking crew in the second half, Kellan Grady deserves a shoutout, as he was a difference-maker when the Wildcats needed an offensive speak early.
With Kentucky struggling from the field, the 6-foot-5 graduate student responded with three straight three pointers to erase a 21-20 Southern lead. The Wildcats finished 6/20 from three-point range (30%) and finished with 15 turnovers.
The Davidson transfer is at his best in the halfcourt offense and entered the game as one of Kentucky’s best perimeter shooters, going 13/31 (41.9%) this year from behind the arc.