The first half was rough, as the Cats never led and went into the half down 42-34.
Everything changed in that second half, as the Cats came out roaring and outscored the Georgia Bulldogs 51-29 and pulled out an 85-71 victory.
Oscar Tshiebwe, the reining National Player of the Year, racked up a career-high 37 points to go with 24 rebounds. This, after John Calipari said Tshiebwe needed to spend more time in the gym.
After the game, Calipari and select players met with the media. Here’s a recap of what they said (transcripts via UK Athletics).
JOHN CALIPARI: Terrific second half. First half, they were beating us on the bounce and we had to tighten up the defense. My error was, I wanted to press them and then drop back. We can’t play that way, and the staff just said stop, just go back and play that tight defense, and we did it.
Play of the game, Antonio (Reeves) steal and pass and the dunk and-one, play of the game. The most impactful player that the coaches just gave out, do you know Jacob (Toppin) had a double-double, but Oscar (Tsheibwe) was playing a video game and had 36 and 24. So he was the most impactful player.
Great thing I’m going to tell you, the whole second half they’re looking at me, keep throwing it to him. Run stuff to him. Throw it to him. Again, free throws, we make them — if the right guys are shooting free throws, you make free throws.
But CJ (Fredrick) leads, man, he just leads. He’s smart. Antonio scores baskets. Chris (Livingston) is tough as nails. Jacob is playing better and better, being more aggressive and more confident. Think about where he was before we played Missouri. Think about that.
So, we’ve got to continue to see about getting better. We’re off tomorrow.
Again, I told Mike prior to the game, I watched the tape, I was scared to death of this game in that they can beat you seven different ways, and he’s done a great job with this team, and it was a good win.
A couple questions because it’s like midnight.
Q. Coach, at the 12-minute mark you guys were tied with Georgia and you brought in a lineup that stayed all the way to the four-minute mark.
JOHN CALIPARI: What was that lineup?
Q. CJ, Antonio, Cason, Jacob and Oscar. What did you see during that eight-minute stretch that led you guys to victory?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, the only thing I worried about was defensively, and that means you’re putting a lot of weight on Jacob to rebound. He did it, so you can play with three guards. If he doesn’t do it, you’ve got to have Chris in there rebounding. You have to.
We also need a sub for Jacob. Today it was Lance (Ware). We went to the sub with Ugonna (Onyenso), kind of got muscled a little bit. But why do you think I put him in? Because they were driving for layups. I thought maybe he’ll go block a shot and change the complexion of the game. But I loved the dunk. Adou (Thiero) did great again. But the game, whether it was he or Sahvir (Wheeler), the game just dictated to me this is how you’ve got to play this. It’s not brain surgery. We were all watching the same thing.
Q. I think it’s after the South Carolina game Oscar kind of called out his teammates. He apologized —
JOHN CALIPARI: You guys, let me say this. I’ve got to stop you. This kid will say stuff and doesn’t really know what that means. Now, he’s very intelligent. How many languages? Like six. English is probably No. 6. So he will say, or he told me to put in a — he never did that. What do you think I would say if he said it? Sometimes he’ll do stuff like that, and he’ll feel bad, well, I didn’t know it meant that. Yeah, that’s what it means, so you don’t do it.
He’s the greatest kid. You saw that he’s such a good kid that that’s what they did.
Now, they wanted him to get 50. They could have cared less. They want to win the game now. We’re not playing for ourselves, we’re playing for each other now.
I will tell you that everybody was fine with it. You know why? Because they know him, and they know he does that occasionally, like says stuff, like where did that come from.
Q. I was sensing a rededication in him the last two games.
JOHN CALIPARI: What he’s done for two weeks, he’s been in the gym. Last year he lived in the gym. For a while he was in the gym but not the same. Someone says you’re criticizing him. No, I’m telling you for the last two weeks, he and Adou have lived in the gym. What does it do for your game? That’s how you build your confidence, that’s how you build your stamina. You told what I told him? Dunk every ball. Quit laying balls in. Jump up. But he had to get in the gym to be that way.
Now you’re seeing him be how he was a year ago. Was he that way two weeks ago? No. That’s why I said what I said, not to be disrespectful or talk down on Oscar. I love Oscar. He knows I love coaching him.
Cal gives an opening statement and talks about playing a 8 minute stretch with no subs and the way the team fought. pic.twitter.com/6yw1rauiTM— Dylan Ballard (@DylanBallard_UK) January 18, 2023
Q. How does it change the complexion of this team when Jacob is attacking the boards like he has been here recently, and what —
JOHN CALIPARI: It means you can put a bunch of guards out there if he and Oscar, because Oscar is going to get a bunch of them and he cleans up the rest, but the last game Antonio rebounded, Chris rebounded. Let me say this, I’m sorry. The other play of the game was on the free throw miss. Chris got that ball and threw it out and CJ made the three. That may have been the play of the game. But those are effort plays.
Again, playing to win. I thought Cason (Wallace) was good today, made big shots. We’re becoming that team. I’m happy for these kids.
I told them prior to the game, did you like the taste in your mouth 10 days ago or the one after Saturday? Well, then let’s get that taste back in our mouth. We came in at halftime, I said, we’re down four, three buckets. You know why? We can’t make a basket. The only guy that can make a basket is Oscar. You’re going to be down. So just play. We’ll make shots. We’re beating them in the — that’s all I was saying to them.
After the game, I said, when are you going to start believing what I’m telling you, because I believe in these guys. I really do.
On Oscar’s performance tonight...
“He was a beast today, that is the Oscar (Tshiebwe) we have been waiting for. He just went out and was the old Oscar. He rebounded, got put backs and dunked it. That is what we needed.”
On how he has been improving...
“I feel like I am coming along well. Guys are trusting me and I just feel like I belong out there and am doing whatever it takes to win.”
On how good it feels being out there with CJ to spread the floor...
“It spreads the floor a lot. You know, me and him are knockdown shooters and we make sure we get each other open and our other teammates do so as well.”
Antonio Reeves talks about tonight’s game. He touches on the night Oscar had, Jacob’s toughness, playing with Cason and CJ and more.— Dylan Ballard (@DylanBallard_UK) January 18, 2023
Take a listen! pic.twitter.com/P4UdLVR6pm
On how the win feels…
“This one feels good, you know. Coming out of our last home game – it was a loss, coming back and getting the win. You know, had two tough games against Tennessee and Georgia. Just coming out with wins and stacking them up.”
On how the last 2 games impacted their performance today…
“We were just ready to go fight again. We knew it was going to be another war and we’ve been talking about stacking wins and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
On what changed in the second half…
“I’d say we started playing with more intensity. We started finishing and made more shots. [We] started off a little slow but as the game went on we found our rhythm.”
On if Oscar knew he was performing well…
“I don’t even think he knew. He’s just team-oriented, he’s not worried about himself. He looked up and he was like ‘dang, I’m doing pretty good’, but I don’t think he was trying to force it and chase those stats.”
Cason talks about Oscar and how he impacted the game, talks about Sahvir making the offense more comfortable, his game, and much more.— Dylan Ballard (@DylanBallard_UK) January 18, 2023
Take a listen pic.twitter.com/wPgTeT2Fn6
On how much he’s had to practice free throws and getting back into a routine…..
“It helped us a lot (making free throws). Free throws helped us in the game against Tennessee. If we were not making free throws, we had no chance to win. And I like how the defense was playing. They just locked in and just tried to stop the ball. That’s what everybody is now in the gym.”
On Coach Cal telling him to dunk more…
“I did not feel like I was dunking enough.”
On UK “having their fight back…”
“We’ve got our fight back. Everybody is now locked in. I’m so proud of our boys. We came together.”
Oscar interviews are the best interviews!— Dylan Ballard (@DylanBallard_UK) January 18, 2023
Oscar says he brought the team to his room and encouraged them at one point.
He says this team is now fighting and having fun.
Talks about the importance of free throws.
He mentions much more as well. Take a listen below pic.twitter.com/vR2I3qqf29
And here are the postgame notes via UK Athletics.
Team Records and Series Notes
- Kentucky is now 12-6 on the season, 3-3 in the Southeastern Conference.
- Georgia is 13-5, 3-2 in league play.
- Kentucky holds a 131-27 advantage in the all-time series and has won two in a row.
- UK leads 64-5 in games played in Lexington and has won the last 11 in Rupp Arena.
- Next for UK: on Saturday, the Wildcats host Texas A&M in a 2 p.m. game that will be televised on ESPN.
- Kentucky’s 85 points are the most against an SEC opponent in the last 12 games, since the 90-81 win over Alabama on Feb. 19 of last season.
- UK tallied 51 points in the second half, most in a half this season vs. an SEC foe.
- Kentucky won the rebounding 44-31. UK is 8-0 this season when leading the rebounding by double digits.
- Kentucky made 23 of 30 foul shots, season highs in both categories.
- Kentucky’s final margin of 14 points was the largest lead of the game. UK is 320-13 (96.1%) under Calipari when leading by at least 10 points at any time during the game.
- Kentucky trailed by as many as 11 points on two occasions late in the first half. It is the largest UK comeback win since rallying from an 11-point deficit vs. LSU on Feb. 23, 2022, with UK winning 71-66.
- Kentucky got double-doubles from Oscar Tshiebwe and Jacob Toppin for the second time this season, also vs. North Florida on November 23.
- Oscar Tshiebwe had a career-high 37 points and yanked a season-best 24 rebounds, the first 30-20 game of his career.
- The last Wildcat with a 35-point, 20-rebound game was Mike Phillips, who had 35-20 vs. LSU on Feb. 2, 1976.
- This is the fifth 35-20 game in UK history, also Phillips (listed above), Dan Issel (36-29 vs. LSU on Feb. 22, 1969), Cotton Nash (34-20 vs. Tulane on Jan. 11, 1964) and Bill Spivey (40-34 vs. Xavier on Feb. 13, 1951).
- Per ESPN, Tshiebwe’s 24 rebounds are the most for a Division I player with a 35-point game in the last 25 seasons.
- It is the fourth 30-point game of his career.
- The 37-point game tied Malik Monk vs. Georgia (1/31/17) for most points in an SEC game and the third-most point in any contest in the Calipari era.
- Tshiebwe’s points-rebounds-assists total of 62 (37-24-1) was the most of any player in the Calipari era, topping his own previous total of 50 (30-18-2) at Arkansas on Feb. 26, 2022.
- Drawing 12 fouls during the game, he had career highs by making 13 of 18 free throws.
- It is his sixth 20-rebound game of his career. All UK players combined have totaled five 20-rebound games since the 1973-74 season.
- He entered the game leading the nation in offensive rebounding with 5.6 per game and got 11 ORBs tonight.
- He could have had a double-double with either offensive (11) or defensive rebounds (13). It’s the second time he’s accomplished that feat with a 14-point, 10-ORB, 10-DRB performance vs. Robert Morris on Nov. 12, 2021.
- It is his SEC-best 11th double-double of the season.
- Tshiebwe has 39 double-doubles in 50 career games for UK.
- He also had a season-high-tying three steals.
- Jacob Toppin had 11 points and a career-high-tying 11 rebounds, his third double-double of the season.
- He also had a game-high four assists, second time this season and fifth career he has done so.
- Cason Wallace tossed in 17 points, his 10th double-figure scoring game of the season.
- He made 7 of 11 from the field, including 2 of 4 on 3-pointers.
- Antonio Reeves came off the bench to tally 11 points, his 13th double-figure game of the season.
Coach John Calipari
- Calipari is 21-3 vs. Georgia, all coming at UK.
- Calipari has an 822-247 all-time on-court record and is 377-107 in 14 seasons at UK.
- UK is 309-60 (83.7%) against unranked competition under Calipari.
- Kentucky is 643-78 (89.2%) in the 47-year history of Rupp Arena, including 348-47 (88.1%) vs. SEC foes.
- Kentucky is 216-18 (92.3%) in Rupp Arena under Calipari.
In the First Half
- Kentucky opened with a starting lineup of CJ Fredrick, Cason Wallace, Chris Livingston, Jacob Toppin and Oscar Tshiebwe for the second game in a row.
- Antonio Reeves was the first substitute at the 16:55 mark.
- Georgia opened an early 7-2 lead but the Wildcats got their only lead of the half (14-13) at 11:02 on a steal by Wheeler, followed by a fast break dish to Toppin for a dunk.
- The Bulldogs regained the lead the remainder of the half and took a 42-34 advantage into intermission.
- Tshiebwe led the Wildcat effort with 14 points and nine rebounds in the first half.
In the Second Half
- Kentucky began the second half with Fredrick, Wallace, Livingston, Toppin and Tshiebwe.
- Tshiebwe scored five quick points as UK pulled within 42-39.
- Down 45-41, Tshiebwe scored and was fouled. He missed the free throw but tracked down the rebound and found Fredrick for a 3-pointer that gave UK a 46-45 lead, coaxing a Georgia timeout at 17:11.
- UK eventually stretched the lead to 53-49.
- Georgia rallied to tie at 55.
- Tied at 57, a Reeves basket put UK ahead for good and the Wildcats gradually pulled away to win 85-71.