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‘Cats Bounce Back, Trounce South Carolina State in 106-63 Victory
Lexington, KY – Graham Shepherd – 11-17-22
In a quick turnaround after a disappointing loss to Michigan State in Indianapolis on Tuesday, the ‘Cats returned to Rupp Arena to take on the South Carolina State Bulldogs on Thursday night. The Bulldogs entered the game with a record of 0-3 on the season, while the ‘Cats brought a 2-1 record into the game. With a fully healthy roster for the first time this season, the ‘Cats fell to Michigan State in a double overtime thriller at the Champions Classic. In the game, it was clear that the ‘Cats and Calipari will need a few games to get used to having a full roster as rotations and playing time work themselves into form. Reigning National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe returned to the court in a big way on Tuesday night, scoring 22 points and collecting 18 rebounds in his first game of the season. Wallace shined against the Spartans in the biggest game of his young Kentucky career, collecting 8 steals (tied all-time UK single game record) to go along with 14 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds in a stuffed stat-line.
The closing spread for the ‘Cats and Bulldogs was Kentucky -40.5. Keys to the game against South Carolina State include getting Frederick and Reeves back on track from beyond the arc, Tshiebwe continuing his dominance in the post, the reserve front court options (Ware, Collins, Onyenso) to make an impact behind Tshiebwe, and Wallace getting more opportunities to lead the offense alongside Wheeler.
The starting lineup for the ‘Cats featured Wheeler, Wallace, Frederick, Toppin, and Ware.
The first score of the game came from a corner three-point make by Frederick off a Wheeler assist. The first three Kentucky shots were all from three-point range. After a Bulldog three-pointer, Frederick converts an old fashioned three-point play to give the ‘Cats a 6-3 early lead. An unconventional alley-oop finish by Toppin and another corner three, this time by Wallace, stretched the lead to 11-3 just 3 minutes into the game. A quick 7-0 run by the Bulldogs shrunk the lead to just 1, but the ‘Cats responded with another and-one opportunity for Ware. The ‘Cats led 13-10 at the first media timeout. Tshiebwe entered the game for the ‘Cats for the first time this season at Rupp Arena to a roar from the home ‘Cats fans with 13:30 left to play in the half. With both offenses cooling, the score was 17-12 at the under 12-minute media timeout. A breakaway transition slam by Tshiebwe ignited the crowd. Collins previewed his athletic defense and shot blocking ability with a skying two-handed block of a Bulldog three-point attempt that ended up 5 rows deep into the stands. Thiero entered the game midway through the half for his first minutes since the first game of the season against Howard. The ‘Cats hit 5 straight field goals on the offensive end to stretch the lead to 29-19 with 6:51 to play. After another blocked South Carolina State three-pointer, this time by Toppin, he collected the ball and scored a transition dunk to extend the lead to 32-20. A 9-0 Kentucky run, highlighted by an Onyenso dunk down the lane, brought the lead to 41-20. A continued barrage of successful offensive trips for the ‘Cats led them to a 49-30 lead at the half. The ‘Cats shot a fiery 58% from the field in the first half, but just 18% from three-point range (2 made threes). Kentucky was led by Frederick with 11 first half points. Other key first half contributors included Wheeler with 5 assists and Onyenso with 6 points.
The first points of the second half came from Wallace with a corner three. A great transition pass by Wheeler showcased his court vision and created another three-point opportunity for Frederick to grow the lead to 55-30. Wheeler continued his strong effort with another incredible no-look pass to Frederick for another three. The score at the first media timeout was 62-35 Kentucky. The ‘Cats hit 5 threes in the first 6-minutes in the second half after hitting just 2 in the entire first half. At the under 12-minute media timeout, the ‘Cats led 68-41. A swift 7-0 Kentucky run, featuring a Reeves three and consecutive Ware baskets gave the ‘Cats a 75-42 lead with 9:40 remaining in the half. The hot stretch for the ‘Cats continued with another Reeves three-pointer and a few easy transition buckets extended the lead to 84-48. Lance Ware turned on offensively for the ‘Cats with a few more dunks, pushing the lead to 94-55 with 4-minutes to play. As the ‘Cats continued to play up-tempo and score at a high rate, the walk-ons entered the game with 2-minutes to play in the game and the ‘Cats up 101-57. A corner Canada three-pointer finished off the scoring for the ‘Cats as they defeated the Bulldogs 106-63.
The Kentucky defense held South Carolina State to just 35% shooting, and 24% from three-point range. Kentucky shot 57% from the field and caught fire from three in the second half to finish 42% shooting from beyond the arc (10 made threes, 8 in second half). The ‘Cats outrebounded the Bulldogs 48-28. Five different ‘Cats scored in double figures in the game, while 12 ‘Cats in total scored in the game. Frederick led the charge for the ‘Cats with 17 points, while Ware and Livingston performed at a high level with their highest scoring games of the year with 12 and 13 points, respectively. Tshiebwe played just 14 minutes, likely due to Kentucky playing three games this week in an effort to protect his knee injury. Tshiebwe did collect 6 points and 7 rebounds in the game. Toppin led the rebounding effort with 9 in the game, with Wheeler distributing the ball at a high level, totaling 10 assists. Wheeler was also the plus/minus leader for the ‘Cats in the game with a +32 in 25 minutes. Wheeler led the ‘Cats in minutes played with those 25 minutes, as Calipari evenly distributed playing time with 10 ‘Cats playing over 10-minutes.
The ‘Cats look ahead to another marquee matchup on Sunday, November 20 as they take on the No. 2 Gonzaga Bulldogs at 7:30 p.m. at the Spokane Center in Spokane, Washington. The game will be televised on ESPN.