Three takeaways from Kentucky basketball’s 118-56 demolition of Carleton University in the Bahamas on Saturday:
1. Kentucky’s defense was suffocating
As we repeated during UK’s first two Bahama bashes, the degree of difficulty for the Cats on this pleasure trip has been on the lower end of the scale. The extreme lower end. John Calipari’s club cruised by 52 points in its first outing, then increased the final margin to 62 in the second. And the Cats matched that point differential Saturday against a Carleton club that was supposed to be a stiffer test.
Still, you had to be impressed with Kentucky’s defensive effort on Saturday. The Cats held Carleton to 25.8 percent shooting in the first half, which included a 1-for-11 showing from three-point range for the Ravens. Carleton ended up shooting 39 percent for the game. It went 3-for-18 from three. And it watched Kentucky come up with 22 steals, compared to three for the losers.
Adou Thiero and Cason Wallace had five steals each. Oscar Tshiebwe made three steals. All those thefts led to a parade of easy baskets. Kentucky enjoyed a ridiculous 39-1 edge in fast break points on the way to shooting 58.5 percent for the game.
No stoppin' Jacob Toppin tonight pic.twitter.com/vF5GTxBhnu
— Kentucky Men’s Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) August 13, 2022
2. Jacob Toppin looks so much better
The consensus around the Cats’ camp is that the four-spot, or forward position, will play an important role in how Kentucky’s season turns out. Last year, Keion Brooks and Jacob Toppin held down that spot. With Brooks transferring to Washington, Toppin is now the lead dog at the position. From what we’ve seen in the Bahamas, he’s more than ready for the challenge.
Saturday, Toppin led the Cats with 27 points. After going a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor in the first half, the senior ended up 11 of 14 for the night. Better still, he was five of six from three-point land. He also chipped in six assists and two steals in his 21 minutes. His plus/minus was a plus-46.
As for the eye test, Toppin just looks more confident. He just looks like a smoother player than a year ago when his energy was his greatest strength. A bit immature in the past, Toppin appears to be getting serious about his game just when Kentucky needs him to be serious about his game.
3. Yes, Antonio Reeves is a scorer
After averaging more than 20 points per game at Illinois State, Antonio Reeves arrived at Kentucky as a graduate transfer with a bucket-collector reputation. During these trio of games in the Bahamas, Reeves has reinforced his billing.
The 6-foot-5 guard scored 23 points Saturday. He was eight of 12 from the floor. He was five of eight from three-point land — including one deep, deep three-ball bomb — part of Kentucky’s 15-for-30 showing from beyond the arc. (The Cats were 11 of 18 from downtown in the second half.) Reeves was also two of two at the foul line and turned the ball over just once in 21 minutes.
The impressive thing about Reeves is his quick release. He takes catch-and-shoot to another level, seemingly firing the jumper before he even catches the ball. He’s fully loaded. He also appears to fit in well with his brand new teammates, who are more than happy to feed him the ball when open.
Kentucky wraps up this four-game exhibition series on Sunday against the Bahamas National Select Team. It’s a noon start on the SEC Network.
As someone who has covered Carleton basketball since 2019... This is not normal. It's been at least 18 years since they lost by 40+ points.
— Mark Colley (@MarkColley) August 13, 2022
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 vs. Bahamas National Select Team, noon (SEC)