It wasn’t a pretty sight Tuesday night, but after last season, the Kentucky Wildcats will take wins any way they can get them.
That was the case against UK alum Sean Woods and the Southern Jaguars, as Kentucky had to grind out a 76-64 win behind 23 points from Oscar Tshiebwe, 18 of which came in the second half as he traded buckets with the scrappy Jaguars.
TyTy Washington chipped in 15 as he continues to develop into the star guard John Calipari envisioned coming into the season.
After the game, Calipari and select players met with the media to discuss the game. Here is a recap of what they had to say via UK Athletics.
Q. Sean Woods was out here talking a lot about the Underground Railroad experience and how it was very enlightening, what was your experience you took away from that?
JOHN CALIPARI: I was really uncomfortable. It makes you think. And you know, how would you be in the mid-1800s if you lived in the South?
If you lived in the South, if I had the same heart, would I be the same person? Just made me uncomfortable. I was with the guys but I was more reading. I needed about another three hours because it was educational, and the people that were there were unbelievable. I’m going to call them educators. When I would tell you for everybody, if you, you know, the history and you know, Cincinnati’s part, it’s a big deal.
But it was good that both teams got to do it with the radio show (Monday) with both teams and both coaches. The Name, Image and Likeness educational component we did (Monday). This McClendon (Leadership) Initiative is going to, you know, is going to benefit by this game, too. So, there were a lot of things that we did. Now, thank goodness we won because they played harder than us. Sean (Woods) did a better job of coaching his team than I did. Where did they get it in the first half? Likek, were you amazed? Anybody watching the game here? What did they get a lot of? [Signals layups.] That was me. I had us too spread out all over the court. And what did they give us? The same. They were tight and in and what we did in the second half, we just said we’re playing tight. Now, the problem with that, and I told the guys, because we were getting beat on the dribble so bad, the problem is you’re not going to have as many possessions. So, that means there’s going to be eight to 10 shots less a game that are carved up amongst your team. You’re playing to win, don’t worry. We had some guys not play well. Let’s give it to Southern, they played harder than some guys. When a guy is playing harder than you, you don’t have confidence.
Now, my kids are not machines and they are not computers. They don’t play great every night. I’m not feeling good, so imagine a couple of those guys aren’t feeling good. But you’ve got to give Southern credit for how they played, and what I said yesterday on the radio show, all the tapes I watched, they never stopped playing. Didn’t matter what the score was. Just like today.
Q. Does Oscar Tshiebwe know what the number on his back represents, that number, and how Kenny Walker played? Does he know that?
JOHN CALIPARI: Probably not. Obviously I’m in this profession and the kids know the last three years. If you asked about Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), they would say, ‘Who?’ Oscar Robertson, you know, triple-double, you know. I mean, it’s—but I’ll say this: He’s playing for the team, the fans. He doesn’t get the ball. He never hangs his head. We’re still trying to figure out how to play him and post it. You notice we did some stuff different today. I’m not playing him like I played Anthony Davis because he’s not Anthony Davis or Karl Towns; he’s different than those guys. We’re doing some different things. But teams are going to collapse. What does that mean you’re going to have to do? Ball fake an open shot? Drive it in there? Or are you going to have shoot a jump shot you can make. If it’s only a two, I don’t care. But you’ve got to make shots. Because they are going to collapse, that’s what they are going to do. That’s what I do. He still caught the ball, but thank goodness—you know, again, my argument again is, if they are boxing you out and displacing you and you jump the rebound, it’s not an over the back.
Now, they said he pushed. I’ll watch the tape. If he pushed, it’s a foul. If he jumped straight up and the guy pushed him like that, that ain’t a foul. Here’s the problem: He’s 255 pounds. My suggestion is, go recruit somebody 255 pounds to play against him. That is his advantage in most games we’re going to play.
Q. This was your first games since the opener he had everybody available. Were the minutes what you wanted?
JOHN CALIPARI: Bryce (Hopkins) went 50% yesterday in practice. I asked him at half, is your back good enough to go? I wanted to get him in, but what I’m going to do is over the next 10 days, we’ve got to start making the decision on some guys getting more minutes and some guys getting less. It doesn’t matter what year you are, none of that, and so if we have a roster of 11, I’m not going to play 11 guys. I mean, now, who are the guys that aren’t playing, you have to be ready to go. Today, you know, I went with Davion (Mintz) because I wanted him out there to get his wheels underneath him to go. Dontaie (Allen) played some. But he’s behind Davion. It’s just what it is. Davion ended up with five rebounds again. This kid ends up rebounding the ball. Defensively, he struggled and so did some of the other guys. Wasn’t one of Sahvir’s (Wheeler) better games, but what we did find out, he can really do a good job of pulling up on elbows and making that shot, would you say? So, we learned a little bit, OK, let’s incorporate that for him.
It just takes time, and you can’t skip steps. I want to skip steps. But you don’t. I thought Jacob (Toppin) gave us great energy. There may be two guys that you’re going to play if he plays bet, you’re playing less, if you both play well you’re going to both play the same amount. I mean, I may go with that a little bit. But I thought Jacob’s energy, the last play where the kid tried to outrun him, that would have been a dunk if it wasn’t Jacob. ‘Well, I tried to run. He ran faster than me.’ Can’t, you know.
But you win a game—that team is picked to win their league. The games that I’ve watched, have a chance to win them all. And you are hoping they played today—they competed. I told Sean as I walked off, ‘Play that way in your league and you’ll be fine. You play like you just did tonight in your league, you’ll be fine.’
Q. You mentioned earlier trying to do some different things with Oscar in the points. Several times in the second half he was able to get the ball in the low post and score. How encouraging is that to see him have some success down low and are the different things that you’re trying, working?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, we needed him to win the game to go get some balls, you know, when they were switching and he held off. The biggest thing on a guy like that when we throw you the ball, you must catch it because if you don’t, they will never throw it to you. We had a couple thrown to the wing that could have been posted and the guy threw it out. Like, why didn’t you just throw it to him? Think thought on the other wing away from our bench, he caught it. From that, he kicked out and we got plays.
Look, teams are going to trap. They are going to trap from the top. They are going to trap from the bottom. We have to get them ready. You know, just we’ve got to get him ready. We’ve got to try to get him, again, we’ll look at the fouls and I’m going to show him, you can’t do these things but most of them are, you’re playing too late. In other words, play before the ball is shot. Not after it’s shot and then you push. You can’t. But we’ll look. We’ll watch. You know, we’ll get a chance to see it and teach.
Q. Was Texas Southern beating Florida last night a teaching tool for you guys?
JOHN CALIPARI: I called Johnny Jones this morning, I said, ‘why did you do that?’ Now, you just gave Southern, they think they are going to beat us now. We have got a tiger on our hands, and Johnny laughed, and we talked about the game a little bit. But I’ve known Johnny for years and years, and you know, it was a heck of win. And they we were 0-7. Did you look at their schedule? Ridiculous. But if you look at Sean’s schedule, it’s the same way. I mean, these teams go, and what happens, though, is if you have some success, you really start believing even though you didn’t win the game, we can win these games.
Now it becomes a different kind of game. They out-hustled us. They out-played us. We couldn’t stay in front of them. They crowded the court and stayed in front of us. We had to then go back and crowd the court and it shortens the game when you do that. We missed nine free throws. Don’t get fouled then. If you don’t make free throws, don’t get fouled. Let somebody else shoot. Missed nine. We’re look the best free throw shooting team in the country.
Q. I remember you telling us at the beginning that you had pretty good guards. I think they are still pretty good. What’s keeping from you maybe putting four of them out on the floor at one time?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, the size of the guards. So, if you put Sahvir, Davion, Kellan, Kellan got zero rebounds today, okay. He’s the biggest one of the group. And then TyTy, you’re really, really small. So would I do it? I did it late just because they did it.
I like — I like to say who is the four. I thought Damion did some good stuff today. He’s getting better. He’s confident. You get in the boxing match, you get in the ring and the other guy is coming right at you and he’s playing and he’s fighting harder than you, you’re going to be confident? No, you — you’re like — you’re looking around, you know, you have to understand, you build your own confidence. You go after people. You respect everybody. You fear no one. Don’t fear anybody. I’m good, too. But if you let the guy outplay you, you look like you have no confidence. So again, we try to tell the guys, I sent them, all of them, Texas Southern, big win at Florida. They are picked fourth in their league. This team (Southern) is picked first. You’d better come ready. So they really — I don’t think we were — I just think that we had a couple guys not play well. And they are not machines. I’m not mad. You know what I told them after? You know what’s good about this team? A couple of you don’t play well, I’ll put in somebody else and they will play well and you just sit there and watch and then get yourself ready. That’s what’s good about having depth.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Dontaie (Allen). He shot an air ball, he fouled a three-point shooter. He’s not shooting well over a stretch. What’s going on there? How steep of a climb does he have, do you think?
JOHN CALIPARI: You know, again, I love the kid. I mean, he’s — he has gotten better. But everybody’s judging him based on just made shots, so now it’s the hardest thing in the game to do. But I told him, if you’re open, you have to shoot — if you don’t shoot, you’re coming out.
Why did he take you out? Because I didn’t shoot? No, he took you out because of a mistake — the other guy’s mistake — no, no, he took me out because I did not shoot. What? Well, why didn’t you shoot. Oh, just I didn’t make a couple, so I didn’t want to shoot. What’s he saying? He doesn’t care if I make them. I have to shoot.
Again, I ask you this, what are you doing if you’re not making shots to help us win? And not just Dontaie, that’s this whole team. You’re not making shots, what do you do to help us win? Are you a defensive stopper? But what do you do? You’re not playing well. Do you have no rebounds or one rebound? Well, wait a minute, you can do that. That’s all effort.
So you know, like I said, we’ve got a gauntlet coming in. I just heard Notre Dame’s recruiting football weekend, the big one, it’s going to be a party and a celebration and here comes Kentucky to town. That will just amp it up about 20 times, and I’ll tell you, let’s go because it’s going to be a physical energetic engaged game, hopefully by both teams. I know Notre Dame will play like that. I have a lot of respect for Mike Brey. Here is a game I just watched, 44-44 regulation, could we play in a game like that? I don’t know. You know, that’s that kind of game, a game in the 90s, we’ve got to try to play everything. I did some things at the end of the game just to see how we can finish off a game and it’s a work-in-progress, folks. All I can tell you the first half, how we played defensively, that’s on me. I spread them out too much, I thought we could do it and still guard but we brought it in and slowed down the game, but again, coaches don’t win games, not just try to score a lot of points.
#4, Daimion Collins, Freshman, Forward
On playing a game that’s very physical …
“You’ve just gotta play hard, try to rebound every ball and give 110 percent the whole game.”
On being excited to finally play some of the big games on the schedule …
“Most definitely, I’m just excited to go out there and compete and have a good game where tonight the other team played hard, it was a good game tonight. But you know other games the competition will be different.”
On seeing the Freedom Center …
“It was real good you know? I learned a lot of stuff I didn’t know, some stuff I did know, and understanding how stuff was back then.”
#34, Oscar Tshiebwe, Junior, Forward
On the team’s potential now that players are returning …
“To me this team is good, but we have had a couple of people off. They came back slow but we are working so we can we support each other and keep getting better like always. We had a great practice with this team, Coach told us they are coming to try their best to beat us, but we have got to come to play too. It was a tough game, but I’m glad we won, we can learn from these games and watch video to get better.”
On how the mindset changes with three tough games coming up …
“Now is big-boy time. So, we go fight. Like Coach says, if you’re not willing to fight then go be a cheerleader on the bench. We know now it’s tough to work hard, but it’s a good time to work hard, to go fight. We’re going to go and fight to get better. I know we’re going to be ready for this upcoming game.”
On his approach on not fouling out …
“When I got those two fouls, I was just bringing a lot of energy and I don’t know when I get lost. In the game, I wanted my head to stay in the game. Coming back, I had a mentality about winning this game. I’ve got to be careful. My Coach told me in a locker room, ‘If you see you cannot get it, don’t reach just go back, it’s not a touchdown.’ I was coming back down the floor telling myself I can get a post-up. I got to do my thing and I dominated because they did not have a big man. They can’t stop me down there. When I grab a rebound, it gives more of an opportunity for our team.”
#3, TyTy Washington Jr., Freshman, Guard
On the game …
“It wasn’t our best, but we still got the job done, so that’s all that matters. I felt like as a whole it could have been way better, we all as a team know that, so back to the drawing board. Satisfied with the win, but back to the drawing board to get better.”
On playing higher levels of competition …
“Even though were coming in being favorites, we don’t look at it like that. At the end of the day you got to respect your opponent. Anybody could beat anybody on any given day in college basketball. So we just come out with the same mindset as if you’re playing against, you know, Duke or somebody so it’s just, come out, get ready to focus and I’m ready you know ultimately win the game”
On playing against smaller players …
“Smaller guys tend to be way faster. They had a lot of guys on their team that could create off the bounce, so that’s what they were doing. You know they were attacking us because they knew they were smaller and were using their speed to their advantage.”
And here are the postgame notes via UK Athletics.
Team Records and Series Notes
- Kentucky extended its winning streak to seven games and is now 7-1 on the 2021-22 season. Southern dropped to 3-6.
- UK is now 1-0 all-time vs. Southern in the official record books.
- The two teams previously played in the 1988 NCAA Tournament with Kentucky winning 99-84. As part of sanctions imposed upon UK, the NCAA ordered Kentucky to erase from the record three NCAA Tournament games from the 1987-88 season.
- Tuesday was a reunion for Southern head coach Sean Woods, member of “The Unforgettables” and four-year player for the Wildcats from 1989-92. He is in the UK Athletics Hall of Fame.
- Woods fell to 0-4 vs. his former school, having played the Wildcats previously as the head coach at Mississippi Valley State and Morehead State.
- The game was the first in the Unity Series, a five-year series featuring annual games between UK and schools from the Southwestern Athletic Conference, which is made up of historically black colleges and universities. The games will seek to raise awareness of the missions of the HBCUs and to raise funds to provide opportunities for students at their institutions.
- Next up: Kentucky will play its first true road game of the season on Saturday at Notre Dame. That game will be televised by ESPN at 5:15 p.m.
- UK leads the all-time series 43-20 but lost last season 64-63 in Rupp Arena.
- The Wildcats, who entered the contest No. 1 in the nation in rebounding margin, continued their rebounding dominance with a plus-16 margin, 41-25. UK has outrebounded all eight opponents this season and now has a plus-19.0 average margin for the season.
- The rebounding led to a 23-11 advantage on second-chance points.
- Paced by four blocked shots each from Oscar Tshiebwe and Jacob Toppin, UK had a season-high 12 blocked shots, its most since swatting 12 vs. Kansas on Dec. 1, 2020.
- UK led by as many as 14 points. The Wildcats are 293-12 (96.1%) under Calipari when leading by at least 10 points at any time during the contest.
- Oscar Tshiebwe, the country’s leading rebounder, posted his seventh double-double of the season with game highs of 23 points and 13 rebounds.
- It’s his fourth straight double-double, the best streak by a Wildcat since Julius Randle had four consecutive double-doubles in March 2014.
- It is his third 20-10 game of the season and second in a row.
- After having foul trouble in the first half, he was dominant in the second half with 18 points and eight rebounds.
- It was his eighth straight game in double-figure rebounding to start the season. He is the first Wildcat to grab 10 or more rebounds in eight straight games since Julius Randle posted a 10-game streak in February and March of 2014.
- He moved back into a tie for the national lead in double-doubles with seven.
- TyTy Washington Jr. reached double-figure scoring for the seventh straight game with 14 points.
- He was 5 of 10 from the floor and is shooting better than 50% during the seven-game winning streak.
- He also had five assists tonight, tying his season best.
- Sahvir Wheeler, who entered the game first in the country with 8.7 assists per game, tied for game honors with six tonight, all coming in the first half.
- Davion Mintz returned to the lineup after missing the previous three games with an illness and record nine points and five rebounds.
- Daimion Collins sparked the Wildcats in the first half, finishing with eight points and tying his season high for rebounds (six) and blocks (four).
- Calipari improved to 346-94 at UK.
- Calipari has a 791-234 all-time on-court record.
- UK is 282-55 under Calipari in games vs. unranked Associated Press competition and 173-11 vs. unranked foes in Rupp Arena.
- Calipari notched his first win vs. Southern in his first meeting against the program.
- Kentucky is 195-17 in Rupp Arena under Calipari, winning the last seven in a row.
- UK is 102-6 vs. nonconference foes under Calipari in Rupp Arena.
In the First Half
- Kentucky started Sahvir Wheeler, TyTy Washington Jr., Kellan Grady, Keion Brooks Jr. and Oscar Tshiebwe for the seventh time this season. UK is now 6-1 with that starting lineup.
- Washington scored on the first possession of the game with a leaning layup.
- Daimion Collins was the first sub of the game at the 17:30 mark.
- The Wildcats got off to a slow start after the opening bucket. Southern scored nine straight to take a 9-2 lead.
- Kentucky answered back with an 11-2 run to take a 13-11 lead with 12:46 left in the half.
- After a back-and-forth catfight for much of the first half, UK asserted itself with a 9-0 run late in the half to turn a 26-26 tie into a 35-26 advantage with 2:22 until halftime.
- The Wildcats held Southern without a field goal for 5:31 of game time until the Jaguars hit a jumper at the 2:21 mark to cut into the nine-point lead.
- Grady led Kentucky with nine points in the first half thanks to three 3-pointers.
- Wheeler dished out six assists.
- UK led 38-34 at halftime and improved to 7-0 this season when leading at the half.
In the Second Half
- Kentucky used the same five it started the game with to begin the second half: Wheeler, Washington, Grady, Brooks and Tshiebwe.
- The Wildcats opened the second half on an 11-2 run to take a 49-36 lead.
- Kentucky appeared to be pulling away at 55-42 but Southern hung around and cut it to single digits with a 7-0 spurt and got it within 57-51 with 8:12 left.
- Ahead 66-58, a 6-0 run gave UK its largest lead of the game at 72-58 with less than two minutes remaining as the Wildcats went on to the victory.
- Tshiebwe was dominant in the second half with 18 points and eight rebounds.