Kentucky Basketball: Wildcats offense good, defense fair in first game win

Kentucky's TyTy Washington Jr. (Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports)
Kentucky's TyTy Washington Jr. (Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports) /
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John Calipari and the Kentucky basketball team got their first taste of real competition Friday night and offensively it was a solid effort in beating Kentucky Wesleyan 95-72, but clearly, there will be a lot of time spent on defense this week.

The Division II Panthers traveled to Lexington, not for just a big check, but to make a statement that their program is just as rich in tradition and fight as Kentucky’s.

While there were no odds or lines for the game you would have to believe Kentucky Wesleyan would have beaten the spread.

Mainly it was Jomel Boyd who dropped 29 points and pulled down eight rebounds.

Kentucky basketball wins exhibition game offense solid, but defense needs work

But Calipari will use that as a teaching tool as every team they play always seems to have someone unexpected go off for career games against us.

However, it is the first game and we can’t dwell on things that can easily be improved upon.

There were a lot of good things to glean for the first exhibition game of the 2021-22 season. Just putting up 95 points on the Rupp Arena scoreboard is an improvement over any game in all of last season.

Calipari had 10 available scholarship players able to play as they were still missing Jacob Toppin and CJ Fredrick who are both still recovering from injuries. We know Fredrick can knock down the three and Toppin is mister hustle and instant energy when he checks in.

Dissecting and breaking down this first game wouldn’t be fair so let’s just point out some quick and obvious observations.

1. Everyone clearly can contribute and score

While Calipari wanted to give everyone a chance to get game acclimated he spread the wealth of minutes around. All 10 players played double-digit minutes with five reaching double-figure points.

Keion Brooks Jr. led the way with 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds including hitting 4 of 6 three-pointers.

TyTy Washington also had 18 points and knocked down all 3 of his long-range attempts and swiped two steals. His running mate at guard Sahvir Wheeler added 10 points and dished out six assists and had three steals.

The most solid effort was on the block with big man Oscar Tshiebwe finishing with 11 points but making all four shot attempts, was 3 of 4 at the foul line, and grabbed 10 rebounds five at the offensive, and five at the defensive end.

Calipari did try to give him breaks as he too is nursing a bad hip.

Davion Mintz, who decided to return for another season thanks to Covid-19, per the norm chipped in with 12 points, 4 rebounds, and 6 assists. He surely must cherish the role of not having to be the savior every night as it was last season.

Kentucky basketball
Davion Mintz (Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports) /

2. Run, Run, Run but pass, pass, pass too

From the opening tip, this year’s Kentucky basketball team made it clear they intend to run and gun. This is fine and fun when it works but hit a drought against better teams like Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, Alabama, and Tennessee and they could find themselves in deep holes.

It’s evident they all want to stake their claim to minutes in games, but trying to stuff the stat sheet with potential points isn’t always the best. Kellan Grady camped out all night in the corners and on the wing and players failed to find the wide-open shooter for shots. He only ended up taking eight in 23 minutes.

Sometimes they were quick to pull up for a three-pointer when an extra pass would have made more sense. But when they run in transition they are electrifying just check this out from Mintz with the block and assist pass to Bryce Hopkins

Calipari was quick to point that out to Jimmy Dykes after the game when asked about how cool the offensive mindset seemed to be.

"“I was trying to play everybody and you’ll see this is going to have to be narrowed down. The only problem is the first six shots we took were threes, I’m like dudes what are you doing…  There were times we could have made an extra pass but guys trying to make a play for himself. They are each trying to establish who they are and their first time out in front of fans. I get it.”"

They also forced Kentucky Wesleyan into 12 turnovers that resulted in 18 points for the Wildcats. The speed also accounted for 21 fast-break points.