Three takeaways from Kentucky basketball’s 85-57 win over the Central Michigan Chippewas at Rupp Arena on Monday night.
1. Are the Cats getting what they want out of these games?
John Calipari’s club continued its run of blowout wins over inferior competition in the friendly confines at Rupp Arena. The coach has said his team needs these “tune-up” games to prepare for the tough stretch as the Cats dig into December — at Notre Dame on Dec. 11; vs. Ohio State in Las Vegas on Dec. 18 and at home to Louisville on Dec. 22. But starting with Robert Morris on Nov. 12, Kentucky’s six victories have come by margins of 40, 25, 18, 25, 34 and 28 points.
In his postgame press conference Monday, Cal said his team was learning to trust each other. “Building confidence and togetherness,” said the coach. “You make them pass the ball to each other. You make them make the easiest play. You talk to them about how we’re playing against us, ourselves and our best. How good can we play? Forget about the opponent. How good can we play?”
So if Kentucky was playing against itself rather than Tony Barbee’s Chippewas, did the Cats get what they wanted out of the 40 minutes of basketball on Monday?
“A little bit,” said guard TyTy Washington, who scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds. “We got more things to work on, but like you said, Coach Cal told us we’re playing against ourselves. When we go into games like this, you’re playing against yourself, so be the best version you can.”
Monday night’s best version was probably center Oscar Tshiebwe, who recorded yet another double-double, scoring 20 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. But even Oscar has room to grow. “We got to find ways to get Oscar going a little more, instead of just him relying on offensive rebounds,” Washington said.
2. Kentucky’s shooting could use some work
In last Friday’s 86-52 romp over North Florida, Kentucky was just 6-for-25 from three-point range (24.0 percent) on the way to shooting 47.4 overall. In Monday’s romp over Central Michigan, Kentucky was just 7-for-26 from three-point range (26.9 percent) on the way to shooting 43.1 percent from the floor.
The Cats were particularly off target in the second half, shooting 32.4 percent from the floor, including just 2-for-19 from three-point range for 10.5 percent. After building a 26-point lead at halftime (51-25), perhaps the Cats were merely bored in the second half. Or maybe they had players trying to pad their scoring averages.
“We had a couple of guys go 2-for-12,” Calipari said. “You can’t go 2-for-12. We missed some shots that were wide-open.”
A quick study of the box scores shows that no Kentucky player went exactly 2-for-12. Dontaie Allen was 3-for-11, including 1-for-7 from three-point range. Kellan Grady was thee of eight from the floor, including one of five from three. Bryce Hopkins was 3-for-9, including misses on all three of his three-point attempts. Keion Brooks was 3-for-10 from the floor, but the junior is coming back from an illness that kept him out of the North Florida game.
“Consistency in shooting the ball is what we need to work on,” said forward Jacob Toppin, who was a perfect 3-for-3 from the field. “Defensively, we can get better. We have practice every day where we work on defense because that’s what we want to be, a defensive team.”
Is better shooting just a matter of getting better shots?
“Get in the gym more,” Toppin said. “We’re getting the shots we want. If they’re not falling, we’ve just got to get in the gym and become more confident in our jump shot.”
3. The Cats should benefit from this short break
Kentucky is not back in action until Dec. 7 when Sean Woods and Southern University come to Rupp Arena. The Jaguars are 3-4 after defeating Tennessee State 82-80 on Sunday. They opened the season with a 72-60 loss at Louisville.
The mini-break comes at a good time for Calipari’s club. Several Cats are either hurting or ill. Davion Mintz missed his third straight game because of illness. Calipari said he thought Brooks is still feeling the lingering effects of his illness. Toppin said his shoulder is still not back to 100 percent. The forward said he actually hurt the shoulder during preseason drills, but he continues to take treatment.
“Over time it just got very sore,” he said. “It left me out awhile. I kept strengthening it and doing workouts to strengthen it. Over time it’s gotten better. But I’ve still got a little bit of ways to go.”
“The flu is going around right now,” Washington said. “We got a few guys under the weather. They’re getting their treatments, stuff like that. The rest of us are going to keep playing and practicing. And when they get back then we’re going to work them back in to what we’ve got going in.”