The Kentucky Wildcats dominated the Howard Bison in the season opener on Monday night by a score of 95-63.
The Cats came out with some jitters early on, but once they settled in, there was no slowing them down. After a slow start shooting from the floor, Kentucky turned it on for the last 10 minutes of the first half to build a lead that became insurmountable. At the break, UK led 49-26.
After the half, Kentucky went back and forth a bit at times, but they were able to extend the lead and finish off the Bison for their first win of the season.
Next up, the Cats will take on the Duquesne Dukes on Friday night in Lexington.
First starting lineup of the year, plus injury updates
Kentucky rolled with the same starting five as they did in their last exhibition game—Cason Wallace, CJ Fredrick, Chris Livingston, Jacob Toppin, and Lance Ware. While Fredrick, Toppin, and maybe even Wallace will be mainstays in the starting rotation this season, the Cats were obviously missing several pieces.
Oscar Tshiebwe has been dealing with a knee injury that required a minor procedure. While he’s reportedly good to go, he’s still jumping through a couple of hoops to get full clearance for his highly anticipated return. The reigning National Player of the Year is expected back Friday, but Tuesday at the latest.
Daimion Collins is still grieving the unexpected loss of his father, but the sophomore pogo stick is supposed to be back with the team tomorrow and should play on Friday. Finally, the severity of Sahvir Wheeler’s injury is still relatively unknown and John Calipari’s week-to-week recovery time doesn't help much.
The second best shot blocker of the Calipari era?
Ugonna Kingsley Onyenso was a 5-star recruit in the class of 2023 prior to reclassifying to 2022. The 6-11 freshman committed on August 1st and joined the team after the Bahamas trip.
Despite the late start, Onyenso hasn't missed a beat. While he was an afterthought for many a few months ago, especially with Tshiebwe returning, Onyenso has opened some eyes early.
Onyenso played limited minutes in Kentucky’s exhibition games, but he still racked up nine blocks. In this one, he continued to show his shot blocking prowess. The offensive game isn't nearly as polished as the defensive side, but he’s proving to be the elite rim protector that thrives in Cal’s system.
Filling up the stat sheet
I mentioned that Kentucky’s All-SEC point guard missed the game with injury, but what I didn't mention is that Wallace stepped into his shoes flawlessly. The 5-star freshman looked incredibly poised in his first college action—on his birthday, no less.
Many expected Wallace to be a terror defensively, and he is, but his ability to run the point will be invaluable this season. In fact, I predict most will be clamoring for Wallace to take Wheeler’s starting spot, if they aren't already.
This was the kind of feel-good performance you love to see in a regular-season opener.
Reeves is a microwave scorer
After earning MVP in the Big Blue Bahamas trip and leading the team in scoring in the Cats’ second exhibition game, Antonio Reeves caught fire again. The Illinois State transfer didn't start, but he appears to be the perfect scorer off the bench for this team.
Reeves has a ton of experience running the point, and he can clearly score in bunches. The best part is that he isn't shy in the slightest. He lets it rip from all over the place. I was convinced before the season started that he would drive Cal crazy because of how often he takes contested step-back jumpers, but goodness, good luck telling this kid not to shoot it whenever he wants to.
The veterans shine
The Big Blue Nation looked forward to Fredrick’s debut last season before he was injured in the layup lines prior to Kentucky’s first game. Cats’ fans also wanted to see more of Toppin, and they wanted him to be more aggressive when he did get in.
Fredrick is healthy and Toppin has clearly taken a huge step forward. In fact, they looked like arguably Kentucky’s best overall players. Fredrick does not miss. He passes the ball well. He hits the glass. He can run the pick-and-roll. And his basketball IQ is through the roof.
Meanwhile, Toppin has expanded his range and his athleticism is second to none. He hasn't been bashful about shooting the ball, either, and he’s no longer splitting minutes with Keion Brooks, which has given him an extra boost of confidence.
These are glue guys, and their experience is invaluable.
Great way to start the season. Go Cats!