CJ Fredrick scored Kentucky’s first six points, starting the game with a corner three-pointer and getting the traditional three-point play on a lay-up and free throw. Jacob Toppin then scored on a lob pass from Sahvir Wheeler and a Cason Wallace three gave the Wildcats an early 11-3 lead.
SC State then went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to one before the Wildcats were able to find some separation and jumped ahead at the 10:32 mark as Oscar Tshiebwe got a steal on the defensive end and raced the full length of the floor, getting past a defender to complete a thunderous slam dunk to give the ‘Cats a 19-14 advantage. Kentucky ultimately turned up the heat to take a 49-30 lead at halftime.
The Wildcats, who began the week ranked No. 4 in the AP Poll, will now turn its attention to Sunday’s matchup with No. 2-ranked Gonzaga, who lost to No. 11-ranked Texas earlier in the week.
Below are four things to know from the dominant win over SC State.
Kentucky improves from three-point range
After a dreadful first half from three-point range, the Wildcats got locked in the second half and finished 10-for-24 (41.6%) to help the Wildcats hit the century mark.
Kentucky struggled from three-point land early, going 2-for-11 (18.2%) in the first half with Fredrick and Wallace the only UK players to connect from deep. In the early going, most of Kentucky’s points came in transition and off offensive stick backs as the Wildcats still have some work to do in the half-court offense. Antonio Reeves and Fredrick both struggled against Michigan State, but shot the ball much better in a winning effort. Fredrick may be Kentucky’s best decision-maker on the offensive end as the Iowa transfer turned down several open looks to penetrate and make the extra pass which is an important key in half-court sets.
Reserves Onyenso, Thiero get valuable minutes
Freshmen Ugonna Onyenso and Adou Thiero got back into the mix on Thursday night with some quality minutes against the 0-4 Bulldogs from the Mid-Eastern Conference. Onyenso, played just 1:08 against Michigan State and look overmatched on the big stage. However, on Thursday night, the 6-foot-11, 225 pound center, had six points and looked more comfortable against a team that had little post-production.
Thiero, who turned heads during the exhibition season, did not play on Tuesday night in Indianapolis and saw action for only the second time this season against SC State. He got into early foul trouble and had to go to the bench with his third foul at the 6:03 mark. However, these types of games provide great learning opportunities for the all four freshmen - Wallace, Livingston, Onyenso, and Thiero - as everyone, with the exception of Wallace, is still trying to carve out a role this year.
Daimion Collins gets some love from Big Blue Nation
After losing his father Ben last week, Collins struggled against Michigan State as might be expected, but found his rhythm on Thursday night, blocking shots, running the floor, and getting some easy baskets. Collins looked to be on the path for a breakout season during Kentucky’s summer trip to The Bahamas and has tons of potential. He has the size, length and athleticism to be a difference maker, but it may take some time for him to find his footing again and carve out some playing time with a deep roster. It was great to see BBN root Collins on as he had a productive game on Thursday night.
Cal still searching for best combinations
Coach John Calipari is still searching for which combinations might gel together best as the non-conference schedule is the perfect time to experiment. On Thursday, the Hall of Fame Coach, rolled out five different looks and started Wheeler, Wallace, Fredrick, Toppin, and Ware as Tshiebwe got some early rest due to his knee recovery.
Kentucky started perhaps its best lineup to start the second half in Wheeler, Wallace, Fredrick, Toppin, and Tshiebwe. It’s no secret that Calipari likes to play dual point guards, so you can expect Wheeler, who finished with 10 assists, and Wallace to be on the floor together this season. Of course, Tshibwe will always be on the floor when it counts and Fredrick and Reeves have to see action as the team’s top perimeter shooters. That leaves Ware and Onyenso fighting for minutes behind Tshiebwe and Cal has to find minutes for Livingston and Toppin, who was a rebounding machine on Thursday night with nine boards. Finding minutes for Collins may be the biggest challenge early in the season.
On to the next one as Kentucky travels to play Gonzaga this weekend. Go Cats!