The Kentucky Wildcats defeated the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday night in Lexington by a score of 92-77.
The Cats didn't get off to the best of starts as the Bulldogs were scorching the nets in the first half. Kentucky was struggling to defend and Georgia couldn't miss. Thankfully, UK was able to score a well, and they didn't give in, which led to a 40-37 lead at the half.
After the break, it continued to be a shootout for a bit, but Kentucky was able to pull away. They really missed Wheeler’s ability to disrupt the opposing team’s point guard, which probably led to the relatively poor defensive effort, but UK’s ability to score at will left the Bulldogs with virtually no chance.
Kentucky just needs to tighten it up a bit on the defensive end and keep scoring like they did Saturday night and the wins will keep adding up.
Next up, the Cats will travel to Nashville to take on the much improved Vanderbilt Commodores on Tuesday night.
No Wheeler, no problem—Toppin gets the start
Sahvir Wheeler missed this game against his former team after he played just four minutes against the LSU Tigers on Tuesday where he exited with a neck injury. Kentucky says Wheeler is day-to-today, so hopefully he’s back soon.
As Calipari says, Wheeler is the straw that stirs the drink for this team and the offense just isn't the same without him. Not to mention, with Wheeler out, Cal decided to insert Jacob Toppin into the starting five. I have no issue with that whatsoever. In fact, I think UK is better with Toppin on the floor than Keion Brooks. The problem is starting all three of Toppin, Keion Brooks, and Oscar Tshiebwe. That’s three guys that just bog down the paint because they can’t stretch the floor.
The Cats have too many shooters, and they’re too loaded in the backcourt to continue playing three bigs at once. It only exacerbates Wheeler’s absence when you have so many non-scoring threats on the floor at the same time. I think Cal learned in this one the spark that Mintz can provide to the offense that the three bigs just can’t.
Sharpe is in the house
Shaedon Sharpe—the number 1 recruit from the class of 2022—was in the house for this one. Sharpe, who reclassified and enrolled this week at UK, could provide a huge boost for this Kentucky team if he plays this season.
Your first look at Shaedon Sharpe getting shots up at Rupp Arena— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) January 8, 2022
Brad Calipari in charge of the nation’s No. 1 recruit pic.twitter.com/ifJW4HRuDd
.@ShaedonSharpe and @tytywashington3 getting some extra work in before the game today. pic.twitter.com/IKWC2zkkc0— UK Sports Network (@UKSportsNetwork) January 8, 2022
Whether he plays still remains to be seen, but this was the first time we’ve seen Sharpe on the bench this season and the calls for him to get some PT are just beginning. The 6-5 wing has been compared to Zach LaVine or even Malik Monk on steroids. The hype is certainly real.
Tshiebwe continues his domination
Of course, Oscar Tshiebwe steps up just about every game, but this one was especially important with Wheeler out of the lineup. Kentucky’s National Player of the Year candidate just continues to put up absurd numbers as he got his 11th double-double of the season in the first half alone. For those keeping count at home, that’s 11 double-doubles in 14 career games at Kentucky for Tshiebwe.
It’s fair to worry about Big O getting in foul trouble, but he's done a really good job of avoiding it so far this season. Tshiebwe played all but eight seconds in the first half and committed just one foul. This team is just night and day different with Oscar on the court.
The Cats really need him to continue to do what he did in this one and stay on the floor because he absolutely dominates the paint.
Washington and Mintz stepped up in a big way
I’ve talked enough about how much this team missed Wheeler, now it’s time to talk about the guys who stepped up in his absence. TyTy Washington manned the point guard position, and he did an excellent job at both scoring and distributing for his teammates.
In fact, Washington managed to break the Kentucky single-game assists record with 17, as he was very effective running Kentucky’s offense for the majority of the game. It took all 40 minutes to hit the record, but TyTy Washington is now your single-game assists record-holder for the University of Kentucky, previously held by one John Wall.
It’s obviously a luxury to have a 5-star point guard waiting in the wings when your top man goes down, but Washington is known more as a scoring guard than a true point guard like Wheeler. Well, he did it all in this game in a record-breaking night he and his family will never forget.
SEVENTEEN AND THE SCHOOL RECORD— Kentucky Men’s Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) January 9, 2022
17 AST for @tytywashington3 breaks @JohnWall’s record. pic.twitter.com/W5gKhgcQZ2
Now, as for Davion Mintz, he has really struggled this season in all aspects of his game. The Cats expected a much more consistent presence when Mintz announced his return last July, but he’s had a difficult time settling in.
Well, it finally looks like he’s starting to find his rhythm. Mintz played solid against LSU and excellent on Saturday night. That was critical because he was forced into a lot of minutes with Wheeler out. While Washington stepped into Wheeler’s shoes, it was Mintz’s job to step into Washington’s, and he did just that.
Now, let’s get Wheeler back and keep this ball rolling. Go Cats!