Maybe it was weary legs from four games in five days. Maybe it was the older, more physical and experienced team on the other side of the court.
Whatever it was, the Kentucky Wildcats got their toughest test of the Bahamas trip in Sunday’s finale. UK still managed a 98-74 victory over the Bahamas National Team.
After the Cats obliterated their first three opponents — by 52, 62 and 62 points, respectively — the Bahamians gave them a battle. Nearly 15 minutes in, the home team led, 32-24, and the Cats were shooting just 33.3 percent from the floor, had missed nine of 10 three-point attempts and were getting beat on the boards.
From there, Kentucky took over, going on an 11-2 run and scoring nine consecutive points to take the lead less than three minutes later. Sahvir Wheeler finished off a driving layup at the buzzer of the first half to give the Cats a 41-40 halftime lead, and UK finished the job in the second half.
Kentucky finally opened up a double-digit lead for the first time with 11:09 left in the game, thanks to a scoring flurry from Antonio Reeves, who tallied 14 points — and made four three-pointers — in a little more than three minutes.
A little while after that run, Daimion Collins threw down another highlight-reel dunk, catching a lob pass from Wheeler and finishing off the alley-oop with his head above the plane of the rim.
Reeves led the way for Kentucky with 22 points, finishing 4-for-9 from three-point range. He was 14-for-27 from deep on the trip.
Wheeler scored 21 points to go with four assists and two steals. Jacob Toppin was next with 20 points, along with five rebounds and two steals in a team-high 33 minutes. Oscar Tshiebwe chipped in with the game’s only double-double — 11 points and 12 rebounds, with four assists.
The Bahamas National Team that UK played in Sunday’s finale had the home-court advantage and a big edge in basketball experience. The age of the Bahamian starters for Sunday’s game: 22, 30, 32, 35 and 36 years old.
Kentucky starting lineup
For the final game of the Bahamas trip, John Calipari put out a lineup that could closely resemble the starting five once the season begins. Sahvir Wheeler, Cason Wallace, Jacob Toppin, Daimion Collins and Oscar Tshiebwe got the nod for Sunday’s game.
Calipari said at the beginning of the trip that he would start a different lineup for all four games, and Toppin was the only UK player to start every game.
Based on preseason projections and the team’s play in the Bahamas over the past few days, it would seem that Wheeler, Wallace, Toppin and Tshiebwe will all be in the starting lineup during the regular season. The fifth spot could be a toss-up, with Collins, Antonio Reeves, Chris Livingston, and CJ Fredrick — when he’s fully healthy — all looking like legitimate possibilities.
CJ Fredrick out
Kentucky guard CJ Fredrick did not play in the Wildcats’ final game of the Bahamas trip for “load management” reasons, according to UK.
Fredrick missed all of last season with a torn hamstring after transferring from Iowa to Kentucky, and he has been working his way back to full strength during the early summer practices.
The Cats had Fredrick on a strict minutes count going into the Bahamas trip. He played a total of 37 minutes over the first three games, averaging 4.0 points, 2.0 assists, 1.3 rebounds and 1.0 steals. The career 47-percent three-point shooter was 1-for-5 from long range in those three games. He also didn’t play in the second half of UK’s game Saturday night.
Kentucky’s coaches have heaped praise on Fredrick for his defensive ability, and he’s expected to play a major role on the Wildcats’ team this season.
Fredrick told the SEC Network crew during Sunday’s broadcast that the plan coming into the trip was for him to sit out the final game.
“The training staff is just being very cautious with me,” he said. “I only started practicing like two or three weeks ago. So just to be out here playing the last three days is a win for me. …
“The next couple of months in practice are going to be big for me. Competing more in five-on-five. Getting up and down. Shooting the basketball with defenders coming at me. And being able to read in-game situations — that’s going to be the next step for me.”
The Kentucky basketball team will largely take the rest of August off before returning to the practice floor next month. Big Blue Madness is about two months away, and things will get rolling from there, with the Blue-White Scrimmage a few days after that and then the exhibition schedule.
UK will play Michigan State in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis on Nov. 15, but the Cats will have at least one regular-season game before that high-profile matchup. The full 2022-23 schedule should be finalized sometime next month.