Who led the Kentucky Wildcats in the Bahamas? Stats leaders and reaction from UK coaches.

·9 min read

It’s probably best not to read too much into statistics from the past week when trying to figure out who will be leading the Kentucky basketball team this season.

Still, now that the Cats’ four-game trip to the Bahamas has been completed, it’s worth at least a look into the numbers. UK dismantled its first three opponents before pulling away at the end for a 98-74 victory over the Bahamas National Team in Sunday’s finale.

John Calipari was trying to have his players play similar minutes — until the final game, at least — but there were still plenty of superlative stat-stuffers on the Wildcats’ squad.

Here’s who led Kentucky in several categories on the trip.

Kentucky scoring leaders

Antonio Reeves edged Jacob Toppin for top scoring honors on the trip by a single point.

Reeves, a transfer from Illinois State this past offseason, scored a game-high 22 points in Sunday’s finale and averaged 17.0 points per game in the Bahamas. He was named the most valuable player of the Wildcats’ trip following the final game.

“It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Reeves said. “I’ve been working hard this summer, just staying in the gym, two or three times a day, and practicing. So it just feels good, when you put in that work and it shows on the court.”

Reeves averaged 20.1 points per game at Illinois State last season, so Kentucky’s coaches knew he could score. At one point Sunday, he tallied 14 points in a little more than three minutes, connecting on four consecutive three-pointers during that stretch.

“He got it going,” UK associate coach Orlando Antigua said. “And I think what you saw is what we preach all the time — when someone’s got it going, the rest of the guys are fully aware, and they want to keep feeding that guy. He’s demonstrated that in practice, throughout the summer, that he can get going pretty quickly.”

The next key for Reeves will be performing on defense, and the UK coaches will continue to push him on that end of the court.

“He’s a phenomenal kid, a phenomenal young man,” Antigua said. “I don’t know how much it’s been asked of him, but it’s being asked of him now, that — to make him a well-rounded player — he’s going to have to continue doing what he’s been doing for us defensively.”

Toppin was next with 16.8 points per game, showing off a versatile floor game that included the ability to create scoring opportunities for himself at the rim and in mid-range. He was second on the team with eight three-pointers after making just four threes all of last season. Toppin also led the Cats with 24.5 minutes per game and was the only UK player to start all four games.

Also averaging in double figures: Sahvir Wheeler (14.5 points per game), Oscar Tshiebwe (11.5), Cason Wallace (10.5) and Daimion Collins (10.0).

Oscar rebounds

In game one of the trip, Oscar Tshiebwe managed just six rebounds in 22 minutes on the court against the Dominican Republic National Select Team.

“Everybody knows what Oscar does,” UK associate coach Orlando Antigua said afterward. “And we’re going to watch some clips. I’m gonna have some clips for him. He got some rebounds taken out of his hands, which doesn’t really happen.”

Then, Antigua added: “He’s gotta become a better rebounder.”

Obviously, he was joking. Tshiebwe, of course, led the nation in rebounding last season en route to sweeping national player of the year honors. And he returned to that version of himself for the rest of the week. Tshiebwe grabbed 14, 13 and 12 boards over the next three games, respectively, to finish with an average of 11.3 rebounds per game, by far the best on the team.

A key question surrounding his game coming into this season is what the dominant national player of the year can realistically do to improve.

“He’s already shown how he can continue to be better: be more fluid,” Antigua said on Sunday’s pregame radio show. “He’s moving so much better. Oscar will continue to be who he is, in terms of his rebounding. And his ability to shoot out to 17 (feet). But we’re also going to put him in some positions to be able to expand his game past the 17 feet and out to the three-point line.

“But also making decisions in the flow of the game, where he has to make passes to guys. People are going to be pressing him a little bit, because they know he can make that shot at the top of the key.”

Tshiebwe tallied four assists in Sunday’s finale. He was 0-for-5 on three-point shots during the four-game stretch, though he went 20-for-31 on his two-point attempts. Tshiebwe has not attempted a three-point shot in a real game during his three seasons of college basketball.

Freshman Chris Livingston was second on the team with 5.8 rebounds per game, followed by Jacob Toppin (5.5) and Daimion Collins (5.3).

Passing the ball

Kentucky’s returning point guard, Sahvir Wheeler, had an off passing game — by his standards — in Sunday’s finale, managing four assists in 29 minutes. But he still had the most of any UK player in that category for the week.

Wheeler, who has led the Southeastern Conference in assists per game each of the past two seasons, averaged 6.0 assists per game on the Bahamas trip.

“He’s the engine that runs it all,” UK assistant coach K.T. Turner said after Saturday’s game. “The way he can push the ball up the floor. He can change speeds. He knows the system inside and out, so he knows when to get guys shots. And one thing he does as the point guard is he logs the game. And he knows who’s on, and where to get them shots. Like tonight, he was like, ‘Hey, let me keep getting guys shots.’ And there were probably two or three shots that he passed up. … He got his teammates wide-open shots.”

By “logs the game,” Turner means that Wheeler knows what has happened with his teammates, offensively, over the course of the game.

“He knows who’s hot, who’s not,” Turner said. “Maybe Oscar hasn’t gotten a shot in a while. ‘Let me try to get him a shot.’ So he does a heck of a job of doing that.”

Cason Wallace, who is likely to be Kentucky’s secondary point guard, averaged 3.5 assists per game, followed by Jacob Toppin (2.5).

UK shot watch

The Cats struggled with shooting the ball for most of Sunday’s game, though they still managed to go 50 percent from the floor and finally upped their three-point rate to 30.4 percent with some key makes in the second half.

The trip as a whole should give Kentucky fans hope that these Cats will be able to put up some points.

Kentucky shot 54.8 percent from the floor and went 38.1 percent from three-point range. It’s obviously a small-sample size, but only one team in the Calipari era has shot better than 38.1 percent from deep. (The 2010-11 Final Four squad went 39.7 percent from three). Only three teams in the Calipari era have shot better than 36 percent from long range, none since 2015-16.

Antonio Reeves led the way by going 14-for-27 on three-point attempts. Jacob Toppin was 8-for-15, with Chris Livingston going 6-for-10 and Cason Wallace shooting 6-for-15.

The Cats’ impressive overall percentage came despite sharp-shooting CJ Fredrick, who was on a minutes limit in the Bahamas, hitting just one of five outside shots. Point guard Sahvir Wheeler was 0-for-9 from deep.

In Saturday’s game, the Cats were 15-for-30 from three-point range.

“We shot the ball great,” said UK assistant K.T. Turner, who had the head coaching duties that night. “The guys are in the gym working, and it’s paying off. We shoot a lot. And we shoot a lot of shots. And the guys are getting a lot of catch-and-shoot threes. And hopefully we can continue to do that.

“And some nights, we’re not going to shoot the ball as great. And I think the thing that we have — we can really offensive rebound when we’re not shooting the ball great on some nights.”

More impressive than the three-point numbers was what Kentucky did with its free throws.

The Cats were 56 of 66 from the line for 84.8 percent. Wheeler was 14-for-15 on free throws, and Reeves made all 10 of his attempts.

Calipari’s best free-throw shooting team was the 2019-20 squad, which shot 79.7 percent. The second-best was the 2018-19 team, at 73.9 percent.

“I think we have a lot of guys that can make free throws,” Turner said. “Once again, I’m gonna keep harping on it — they work on it. They work on it.”

Kentucky defense

As always, defense will be a point of pride for Calipari this season, and it sure sounds like the UK coach has a team that he thinks can be special on the side of the ball.

Calipari has been pushing blocked shots as a major point of focus this preseason. In the Bahamas, the Cats blocked a total of 29 shots over four games, a 7.25 blocks per game average that only the 2012 national title team — with Anthony Davis — has bested in the Calipari era.

The super-athletic Daimion Collins and Jacob Toppin had eight blocks each, and they’ll likely battle for the team lead this season. Freshman guard Adou Thiero was actually next with five blocks. In all, seven different UK players recorded at least one block on the trip.

And the Cats managed 56 steals — led by Cason Wallace with 12 — and forced 85 turnovers over the four games.

CJ Fredrick observed last season’s Kentucky team at this point in the summer. Asked on the SEC Network broadcast Sunday to compare that squad to the current one, the veteran guard went with defense as the ingredient that could be key to a March run.

“I would definitely say the rim protection and the defensive end right now,” he said of the biggest difference between the two teams. “There’s not a lot of easy shots at the rim on us. You’re having Daimion, Oscar, Lance (Ware), Jacob contesting every shot. Our guards are keeping people in front of them right now. … I think the athleticism at the defensive end is going to be what takes us further.”

Kentucky’s stats from the basketball trip to the Bahamas.
Kentucky’s stats from the basketball trip to the Bahamas.