Three takeaways from Kentucky’s Bahamas blowout victory, 108-56, over the Dominican Republic Select Team on Wednesday night:
1. Cason Wallace looks as advertised
The buzz coming from the gurus who closely follow the wide, wide world of college basketball recruiting stated that freshman Cason Wallace would be an integral part of this 2022-23 Kentucky basketball team. There was nothing that happened in UK’s exhibition opener to make you believe the buzz was bunk.
The 6-foot-4 combo guard from Richardson, Texas, played an all-around game. He scored 15 points, grabbed five rebounds, dished three assists, blocked two shots and made a steal. Oh yeah, Wallace also played quite a bit of point guard and committed just one turnover in his 25 minutes on the floor.
All this when Wallace’s defense is purported to be the strength of his overall game. Kentucky’s overall defense was good Wednesday, though you must take that with a grain of salt considering the quality of the competition. Instead, UK’s offense was the story of the night, and Wallace was a big part of that.
2. A year makes a difference for Daimion Collins
As a freshman, the 6-9 Collins was both slight and shy, weighing just 202 pounds and arriving in the giant fish bowl that is Kentucky basketball after playing at a small high school in the small town of Atlanta, Texas. He ended his rookie season having averaged 3.7 points and 0.9 rebounds and 9.0 minutes for his 18 games.
Wednesday night, as a sophomore, Daimion looked like a different Daimion. A more aggressive Daimion. A more grown up Daimion. By night’s end, Collins had scored 15 points with five rebounds and five assists to go with a pair of blocked shots. He hit a couple of nice pull-up jumpers. And, oh yeah, he threw down a pair of spectacular dunks on the heads of the poor Dominicans.
It’s no secret that a huge key to Kentucky’s fortunes in 2022-23 is what happens with that power forward, or No. 4 slot, expected to be manned by Collins and senior Jacob Toppin. John Calipari started the pair together on Wednesday to go along with a kid named Oscar Tshiebwe. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.
With Toppin playing 20 minutes and Collins 23, the combined duo accounted for four of UK’s 10 blocked shots on the night. That’s known as “rim protection,” an element uncharacteristically missing from a Calipari team a year ago. The Cats blocked just 4.2 shots per game in 2021-22. Look for that number to rise.
3. You hardly even noticed Oscar Tshiebwe
After winning every National Player of the Year honor in college basketball last season, UK center Oscar Tshiebwe decided to return for another year of college hoops. As you might have heard (more than) a few times on the SEC Network telecast, he’s the first POY to do that since North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough in 2009.
Wednesday, the 6-9 Tshiebwe scored 17 points and grabbed six rebounds in 22 minutes. Those numbers are misleading, however. Fact of the matter, Oscar really wasn’t much of a factor when Kentucky began dominating the game in the first half, then pulling far, far away in the second. Kentucky led 66-37 when Tshiebwe scored his third basket. The UK advantage was 84-47 when he scored his fourth.
And it didn’t matter. Really, Tshiebwe wasn’t all that needed. His teammates were doing just fine without him. Newcomer Antonio Reeves made four of his five three-point attempts. Freshman Chris Livingston scored 11 points. Freshman Adou Thiero impressed with his seven points. Holdover Lance Ware made five of eight shots on the way to 11 points. And we already talked about Wallace, Collins and Toppin.
All in all, it was a good first night for the Big Blue in the Bahamas. Game two is Thursday at 7 p.m. against Tec de Monterrey, another mystery opponent. The SEC Network, with Tom Hart and Dane Bradshaw, again has the telecast.
Wednesday, Aug. 10: Kentucky 108, Dominican Republic National Select Team 56
Thursday, Aug. 11: Kentucky vs. Tec de Monterrey, 7 p.m. (SEC)
Saturday, Aug. 13: Kentucky vs. Carleton University, 6 p.m. (SEC)
Sunday, Aug. 14: Kentucky vs. Bahamas National Team, noon (SEC)