The Kentucky Wildcats beat the Florida A&M Rattlers on Wednesday night in Lexington by a score of 88-68.
The Cats got off to a very fast start as they jumped out to an 18-2 lead less than six minutes into the game. It didn't prove to be sustainable as a variety of odd lineup combinations slowed the scoring and the defense disappeared, but it was clearly a learning, “show me what you got” kind of game. Kentucky went into the break with a 42-32 lead.
After the half, Kentucky again came out firing, but they almost completely fell apart. The lead was cut to single digits very late in the game. Kentucky came nowhere close to covering the 37.5 point spread, and while the concerns seem to multiply each and every game, they were able to pull away late.
Next up, the Cats will celebrate the holidays then head to Columbia on Wednesday night to take on the Missouri Tigers in Kentucky’s first SEC action.
New starting five rocking new uniforms
After a miserable showing against the UCLA Bruins, Kentucky debuted a new starting lineup to go along with some new uniforms. The starting five included Sahvir Wheeler, Cason Wallace, Chris Livingston, Lance Ware, and Oscar Tshiebwe.
Yes, you read that right. Maybe, Calipari’s trolling us at this point against one of the worst teams in Division I because...why not? I don't know. This group was the only five that had any sort of success against the Bruins, but after putting up 53 points against UCLA and preaching about how Livingston needed more time at the four, this lineup was something.
The good news is, as mentioned above, they did jump out in front 18-2 at the beginning of the game, but that was never sustainable. Anyway, let’s get to the good part of this section, check out these new uniforms.
The offense was better, the defense was not
Well, on the bright side, Kentucky’s offense looked a little bit better than last time out. Of course, they were playing against a putrid Florida A&M squad ranked as one of the worst teams in Division I basketball, but it was still better than it was last Saturday.
As we’ve become accustomed to, there were far too many droughts still, but Cal was seemingly treating this almost like practice to see who could play together. You can’t be too mad at the performance on the offensive end, despite the continued issues.
KSR’s Jack Pilgrim summed it up nicely.
Kentucky treating this game like a glorified practice, trying different lineup combinations, seeing who works well together at various positions. Honestly like it.— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) December 22, 2022
Score isn't as pretty as it should be (42-32 at the half), but you've got to get something out of this. I get it.
However, you can be mad about the defensive performance. It was pathetic to say the least against the 362nd ranked offense in the country. Way too many line drives to the basket and way too many wide open shots. As good as Tshiebwe is, he still can’t guard the pick-and-roll, and he can’t guard out on the perimeter. Teams have learned this, and they’re all taking advantage of it.
One odd thing that Kentucky does on defense that’s becoming an easy weakness to exploit is when Kentucky presses, they attempt to trap the ball handler at halfcourt, but they always seemingly do it with Wheeler. The issue with that is the trap becomes ineffective due to Wheeler’s size and opposing players’ ability to just throw it over top of him, regardless of who the other trapper is.
Obviously, rim protection is another weakness, as are CJ Fredrick and Antonio Reeves on the defensive end, but you can live with those deficiencies with Big O down low and Fredrick and Reeves spreading the floor (if they’re hitting open shots).
It seems UK has yet to put together a really, really good all-around game this season and when one thing gets cleaned up, another glaring weakness rears its ugly head.
Oh well. The Cats won, but there’s a lot to unpack outside of the final score.
CJ Fredrick comes alive
Kentucky has been badly missing Fredrick’s ability to spread the floor and make open shots. Their offense is much more lethal when he’s on. Unfortunately, he’s been MIA for the last month as he failed to score a single point in either of the last two games and scored just three against the Michigan Wolverines.
That all changed tonight. After passing up a couple of open looks early, the Iowa transfer settled in and got back to what he’s known for. Fredrick knocked down his first three three-point attempts, racking up nine points in the first half alone.
He slowed down significantly after the hot start (he did hit one more three-pointer late in the game), but it was still a positive sign to see Kentucky’s sharpshooter get back on track.
The Cason Wallace Game
Wallace’s previous career high in scoring and assists came in the first game of the season when he dropped 15 points (to go along with nine assists and eight rebounds).
In this one, he crushed the previous career high scoring mark and tied his career high in assists, too. Wallace was locked in from the start on both ends of the floor as he put up 27 points and nine assists, and picked up four steals.
Kentucky’s freshman guard is a special player, it’s just unfortunate his talent is being wasted on this team and with him playing the two-guard position the majority of the time. Wallace is well on his way to being another lottery pick and hopefully seeing more time at the point going forward should only increase his personal stock and Kentucky’s as well.
Happy Holidays, everyone!