Three takeaways from Kentucky basketball’s 98-74 victory against the Bahamas National Select Team as it swept all four games in the Bahamas:
1. Finally some competition for the Cats
With ridiculous blowout wins of 52, 62 and 62 points in its first three games, Kentucky basketball had not faced much resistance on this particular Bahamas blast. That changed Sunday. Or it did for a half, at least. Unlike its predecessors, the Bahamas National Select Team went toe-to-toe with John Calipari’s club and then some through the first 20 minutes.
In fact, the Bahamas bunch actually led 34-26 with 3:43 left in the first half. Kentucky did close out the half on a 15-6 run to carry a one-point lead, 41-40, into intermission. But the older, more experienced Bahamas group shot 60.9 percent from the floor in the first half, a stat that helped it overcome its 12 turnovers, compared to just three for UK.
Was UK’s lack of sharpness caused by fatigue of playing their fourth game in five days? Was it the quick turnaround from Saturday night? Was it the fact Sunday was a getaway day, the wrap-up of the Cats’ time in the islands? Or, after three pleasure cruises inside the ballroom, were the Cats a bit complacent about going for the sweep?
Didn’t matter. Kentucky rolled in the second half on the way to the 24-point victory. And facing some stiffer competition was a good thing, especially for evaluation purposes. No doubt Cal and his coaches will pay much more attention to the tape of the final game than the first three games combined.
2. All in all, it was an ideal trip
Aside from the controversy created by Calipari’s “football school” comment and Mark Stoops’ reaction, the trip could not have gone much better for the Cats. There was the team-bonding aspect, of course. Boat rides. Events with fans. Deep-sea fishing. All of it played into the togetherness that Calipari is attempting to foster with this team. He wants a tight-knit group.
On the court, there were plenty of bright spots. Antonio Reeves followed up a stellar Saturday showing with 22 points on Sunday to earn MVP honors for the trip. He was four of nine from three-point range, including a blizzard of three consecutive made threes. Oscar Tshiebwe contributed 11 points and 12 rebounds. Sahvir Wheeler chipped in 21 points. And after a slow start, Jacob Toppin finished with 20.
The freshmen, specifically Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston, fit right in the mix. Both will be factors, as they were touted to be during the recruiting process. Daimion Collins looked improved. Toppin showed his game is maturing. Reeves is a certified scorer. Oscar is Oscar. And Wheeler played well.
3. Let’s tap the brakes
Despite the sweep, and the margins in the sweep, and the all the bright spots, despite all that it would be prudent to be reminded that this was an exhibition series. The competition was weak. Yes, Kentucky will not face a team with as many older players as the Bahamas team had Sunday. But the Cats will face more talented teams, starting with the Nov. 15 matchup against Michigan State in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis.
No doubt this Kentucky team has the potential to make a championship run. But there is plenty of work to do, plenty of preseason and in-season questions to answer. What can Oscar do for an encore? Is Wheeler a better decision-maker? Can Toppin blossom into a star? Are Wallace and Livingston ready for the challenges of a full college basketball season? Can Reeves hold his own on the defensive end? Can Fredrick stay healthy? Those are just a few.
Bottom line: This Bahamas trip offered a good taste of what could be down the road. November is getting closer all the time.
Wednesday, Aug. 10: Kentucky 108, Dominican Republic National Select Team 56
Thursday, Aug. 11: Kentucky 102, Tec de Monterrey 40
Saturday, Aug. 13: Kentucky 118, Carleton University 56
Sunday, Aug. 14: Kentucky 98, Bahamas National Team 74