8:17:08 11-29-2021CentralMichiganKentuckyMBB

Kentucky Wildcats forward Jacob Toppin (0) celebrates his dunk with his teammates during the UK vs. Central Michigan men’s basketball game on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 85-57. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Kentucky’s Monday night win over Central Michigan felt like those blowouts of old that UK fans are used to. 

The Wildcats dominated in nearly every aspect of the game, defeating CMU 85-57 in their sixth consecutive victory. In Central Michigan head coach Tony Barbee’s return to Rupp Arena, it certainly didn’t appear John Calipari’s squad tried to show mercy. The Chippewas weren’t able to narrow the Cats lead for the entire game, as the only tie in 40 minutes was for a mere 52 seconds---which was in the first minute of the game. 

While blowouts are easy to look over, here’s a few takeaways from tonight’s impressive showing from the Wildcats. 

Efficiency on the Defensive End

From the opening tip, defensive pressure was a clear point of emphasis---and it showed on the stat sheet. Central Michigan struggled from the field, shooting just 10-33 total in the first half. The Cats were able to force 15 turnovers, scoring 23 points off of those takeaways. Additionally, five players collected at least one steal, totalling nine as a team.

It was apparent that Calipari is starting to get his team into the “defensive confidence” he wants his players to have. 

Jacob Toppin, despite the impressive performance, was unsatisfied. “Defensively, we can get better,’ Toppin said. ‘In practice every day we work on defense, because that's what we want to be---a defensive team.”

 

Getting Off to a Good Start Offensively

The first 20 minutes saw the best scoring half from the Cats since 2018, when they put up 51 first half points against Winthrop. UK shot an efficient 52 percent from the field, averaging 1.46 points per possession in the first half alone. From the three, Kentucky shot 5-7 from beyond the arc, totaling 71.4 percent in the half. The impressive shooting performance gave the Cats a 51-25 lead going into the locker room at halftime.  

 

Consistency From Washington and Tshiebwe

A characteristic of great teams is consistent performances from it’s stars. Tonight was business as usual for TyTy Washington Jr. and Oscar Tshiebwe. 

Tshiebwe gained double-figures in the rebounding column for the seventh game in a row, grabbing 16 rebounds and scoring 20 points. Tonight's performance keeps his spot at first in the nation in rebounding, averaging 16 boards a game. 

For Washington, 15 points (6-11 FG) makes his sixth straight game scoring in double figures, averaging 14.8 ppg. The freshman also hit three shots tonight from behind the 3-point line, averaging 40 percent this season behind the arc. 

Calipari commended Washington’s ability to “let the game come to him” this season. 

“He does. That's just his mentality, that's his personality,” Calipari said about Washington. “Really comfortable in his own skin. He's comfortable with who he is as a player. He's not there to say, ‘I'm going to prove that I can do this.’ He's not playing like, ‘I need to get some baskets now, I gotta get to double figures,’--- he doesn't play that way.” 

Through seven games, Kentucky’s squad is appearing to come together. The Cats will have one more “tune-up” game, as Calipari calls them, to prepare for a tough three-game stretch against Notre Dame, Ohio State and Louisville. 

UK will host the Southern Jaguars next Tuesday, Dec. 7 as part of the Unity Series, a five-year deal with the Southwestern Athletic Conference to feature HBCUs (historically black colleges & universities) on “America’s biggest stages.” That game will air on the SEC Network and tip-off at 7 p.m.