Kentucky basketball: Another blood pressure, heart attack grinder of a win

Kentucky Wildcats forward Jacob Toppin hugs forward Bryce Hopkins (Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports)
Kentucky Wildcats forward Jacob Toppin hugs forward Bryce Hopkins (Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports) /
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This Kentucky basketball team has its slew of health issues all season but Wednesday night nearly sent Big Blue Nation and coach John Calipari to the ER with another grind it out, blood pressure boiling and near heart attack come from behind 71-66 win over LSU.

Those old enough to remember Fred Sanford had a vision of him holding his chest and saying “It’s the big one Elizabeth” as he did over and over in the ’70s sitcom.

It felt just like that watching Kentucky hold on for dear life as he played its second straight game without it starting guard duo in Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington. It is the 16th game this season that UK has had at least one player not dressed for the game for some illness or injury.

While they rallied just before halftime and eventually easily rolled past Alabama on Saturday the Tigers on Wednesday put up a much bigger fight sending the fright into the players and Calipari into a tirade, needing to burn timeout after timeout in the closing 90 seconds.

Kentucky basketball rallies as Hopkins steps up when the opportunity comes

But in the end, it goes into the Win column and Kentucky has now won 18 straight home games dating back to last season with just one more remaining in the 2021-22 season, next Tuesday against Mississippi.

Kentucky (23-5, 12-3 in the SEC) nearly spoiled another spectacular game by Oscar Tshiebwe who finished with 17 points, 16 rebounds, and three blocked shots.

They got 13 points apiece from Davion Mintz and Kellan Grady while Jacob Toppin added eight points and grabbed six rebounds.

But this team lives and dies together. We haven’t seen them give up no matter how high the odds are stacked against them. Win big or etch them out.

Calipari was asked about the closeness of the team and holding them to be accountable.

"“Well here is what I said to them yesterday: a good team has good players. A great team has great teammates. These guys are terrific teammates. They’re great teammates. That gives us a chance. And we are talented. But when you’re great teammates people watch the game and you know what they say? Man, are they fun to watch. Man, do they cover for each other. They make the game easy. Look how hard they play and fight for each other.”"

Even more, astounding was the contribution by the emergence and surprise contribution from freshman Bryce Hopkins who helped fuel the Wildcat rally netting a career-high 13 points on 5 of 6 made field goals, 3 of 6 from the foul line, and collected four rebounds in 16 minutes.

He had Rupp Arena in a frenzy slamming home missed shots and gave Kentucky the tie and eventually lead for good on an old-fashioned three-point play off a layup and foul.

This Kentucky team again needed the backing and support of its fans and despite the 9 pm tip the near-capacity Rupp crowd stayed till the end providing the extra push to get their team the win.

A few late-night takeaways.