The Cats were not shy out of the gate as they put up arguably their best and most fun half of basketball this season. Unfortunately, the defense was a a bit poor, but they were able to take a 42-38 lead into the half.
After the break, Kentucky’s defense picked up, while their physicality and rebounding helped them initially pull away from LSU. The Cats dominated the boards and weren't afraid to body up and hustle all over the court. However, things got close late as the Tigers clawed their way back, but Kentucky was able to fend them off.
The last four minutes were far less than ideal thanks to turnovers, missed free throws, and fouling a three-point shooter with under 10 seconds left. Thankfully, Jacob Toppin sunk a pair of free throws with four seconds left, and LSU’s final shot came up short to preserve the three-point win.
Next up, the Cats will travel to Tuscaloosa to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday afternoon.
Two injured Cats
We all knew CJ Fredrick would miss multiple games after suffering a dislocated finger against the Missouri Tigers. What was not expected was that Lance Ware also missed this game with a left shoulder injury.
It’s unclear how much time Ware will miss, but he is certainly missed with the hustle and grit he brings off the bench. However, John Calipari said before the game that he was going to shorten the rotation and play Sahvir Wheeler, Cason Wallace, Jacob Toppin, and Oscar Tshiebwe as many minutes as possible.
It’s plausible Ware wouldn't have played much anyway, and it allowed Calipari to proceed as planned to see just how much he could get out of his best players while playing the vast majority of minutes.
All of the Big Blue Nation is keenly aware of the offensive struggles this team has dealt with so far this season. They've beat up on poor competition, but they’ve struggled to score against quality opponents.
After putting up 86 points and blowing out the Louisville Cardinals, there was some newfound hope that maybe they were starting to figure it out. It certainly appeared that way tonight as Kentucky played well all around on the offensive end.
They made shots inside the arc, they hit three-pointers, and they even hit their free throws. And when they missed shots, Tshiebwe was there to clean it up. Even Daimion Collins got in on the action with a putback slam.
The Cats look like they’re slowly but surely heading in the right direction, and maybe they are the team we all expected them to be heading into this season.
Oscar dominates again
Tshiebwe put up 23 points and 19 rebounds against the Missouri Tigers and 24 points and 14 rebounds against the Louisville Cardinals. He didn't slow down in this one.
Big O absolutely dominated down low—both scoring and rebounding. Tshiebwe got whatever he wanted inside and there was nothing the Tigers could do to stop it.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn't mention the continued struggles on the defensive end for Tshiebwe. He definitely has his limitations and teams that pick-and-roll and/or have a three-point shooting big are kryptonite for Kentucky’s star big man. LSU’s KJ Williams also got whatever he wanted, but he was not able to control the paint or crash the glass.
The reigning National Player of the Year isn't perfect, but he’s playing like excellent basketball right now—defensive struggles aside.
Wheeler and Toppin excel
Wheeler and Toppin were the next big stories behind Tshiebwe in this game. Both guys played very well and played a big part in Kentucky’s victory.
Wheeler did a little bit of everything. Of course, he stays finding open guys on the offensive end, but he knocked down three deep balls (where he has not at all been a liability this season), and surprisingly, he crashed the glass hard.
After scoring 11 total points in Kentucky’s previous four games, Toppin exploded for 24 points and seven rebounds against that team down the road on New Year’s Eve. The concern was obviously whether he could show some consistency and do it more often.
Toppin dominated the second half in this game as he led the team in scoring. As part of his big night, he hit a much-needed three late in the game and two huge free throws to seal it. The power forward position has been a black hole for Kentucky this season, but back-to-back big outings from Toppin has us all feeling much better than we did last week at this time.
Big win for the Cats to secure their first win in SEC play!