Kentucky got off to a rip-roaring start from the floor to begin the game, but they got in early foul trouble and turned the ball over way too much. Foul trouble kept Oscar Tshiebwe and TyTy Washington out of the game for a large portion of the first half, which ended with a 39-34 halftime lead for the Cats.
After the break, Kentucky let the Gamecocks tie it up, but they buckled down on their way to a victory thanks to a balanced attack. With six guys in double figures, including one who injured himself in the first half and didn't return (see below), multiple guys stepped up to help UK get the win.
This South Carolina team is not good, but they play hard, hit the boards, and force a lot of turnovers. The Cats have to take every opponent seriously in this league, especially on the road. This one was a test, but Kentucky pulled it out in the end.
Next up, the Cats will return to Lexington to take on the Florida Gators on Saturday afternoon.
Wheeler gives and Wheeler takes
Sahvir Wheeler is Kentucky’s best passer and floor general, but he hurts the team when he plays out of control and, frankly, when he shoots the balls. He impacts the game in a way not many others can when they’re not scoring, but sometimes the bad outweighs the good, and vice versa.
In the two games before this one, the good: Wheeler dished out 16 assists and grabbed four steals; the bad: Wheeler was 0/12 from the field with six turnovers. Wheeler is a very important piece for the Cats, but he can hurt them in just as many ways as he helps them.
It seems the 5-foot-9 point guard has lost confidence in his shot, which wasn't very good to begin with. It hasn't been this bad all year, but nothing’s falling right now for him. Wheeler needs to stick to layups and floaters with the occasional elbow jumper only when necessary.
At this point, a Wheeler jump shot is effectively a turnover, and he’s turning the ball over enough on his own when he plays out of control.
To be fair, he did put up double-digit assists as he works the catalyst of this offense. However, for Kentucky to be really, really scary come March, they need Wheeler to pull it together and get back to influencing games in a positive way all around.
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers
After turning the ball over 15 times against the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday, the Cats struggled to take care of the ball again. Kentucky scores the ball efficiently and getting out in transition a lot can lead to turnovers, but they have got to take care of the ball and slow down on the turnovers.
As mentioned above, Wheeler contributes to UK’s turnover struggles, but it’s not just him. Washington and Tshiebwe both turned the ball over their fair share in this one as well. It’s unacceptable for a team that’s starting essentially three point guards with a fourth coming off the bench to turn the ball over this much.
Great ball movement
The turnovers are frustrating, but this team shares the ball so well. As mentioned above, they struggled with turnovers against Alabama and in this game, but they still put on a ball movement display in both games.
The Cats are one of the best teams in college basketball in assist rate and that’s an important trait to have. It’s also the reason Kentucky is so good offensively. Sharing the ball as well as they do leads to plenty of open looks, and with the way they get out in transition, it’s key to being efficient in that area.
Kentucky doesn't get beat on the glass often, but this is the third straight game where that's been the case. What’s even worse is that the Cats were dominated on the offensive glass.
In a game where Kentucky shot over 50% from the field, the Gamecocks were able to stay in the game for too long because they grabbed so many offensive boards. Tshiebwe got his fair share, but not before getting abused in the first half.
Credit where credit’s due, though, as Tshiebwe did end up with another monstrous stat line, including a double-double in the second half alone to go along with three blocked shots.
Couple the poor rebounding with the turnover issues and your offense is tasked with a very heavy burden to shoot the lights out. Thankfully, this team is capable of doing that, but they have some cleaning up to do as they can’t give up 20+ offensive rebounds again.
Another game, another injury
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Another Cat went down with a rolled ankle in this one. Jacob Toppin was a man on a mission in the first as he scored 10 points, including eight straight, and grabbed three rebounds in just six first half minutes.
However, when he went down with the ankle injury, he was ruled out for the game, which was a big loss for UK as his eight straight points breathed life into a sputtering Kentucky offense.
The severity of Toppin’s injury remains to be seen, but let’s all hope it’s just a minor one.
Let’s make Florida some gator bait on Saturday. Go Cats!