basketball Edit

Wheeler, Tshiebwe lead Cats in blowout of North Florida

Kentucky's Sahvir Wheeler dished off one of his 14 assists in the Wildcats' 86-52 win over North Florida on Friday night at Rupp Arena.
Kentucky's Sahvir Wheeler dished off one of his 14 assists in the Wildcats' 86-52 win over North Florida on Friday night at Rupp Arena. (Jeff Drummond/Cats Illustrated)

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Count North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll among the growing legion of Sahvir Wheeler believers.

"I know he's not a shooter -- he's not a good shooter at all -- but I told Wheeler after the game that if you continue to do what you do and be the player that you are, this team has a chance to really be special," Driscoll said after watching Kentucky's diminutive point guard score 12 points, dish out 14 assists, and lead a dominant defensive effort by the No. 10 Wildcats in an 86-52 win on Friday night at Rupp Arena.

"The way he defends the ball at the point and the way he pushes the ball to the rim and puts pressure on you, it's great to see. It's exciting for these guys to see."

Added UNF forward Carter Hendricksen: "The pressure (Wheeler) puts on and the physicality he plays with on our guards and everyone he plays against is really impressive that he can carry that out for the 35 minutes, 36 minutes that he played. It’s a testament to his conditioning and his ability to play like that. It’s really impressive.”

Wheeler was one of two double-double performances by the Cats on this night. They also got 12 points and a game-high 16 rebounds from center/forward Oscar Tshiebwe.

"Thirty-four, I can't pronounce his name, but he's one of the greatest rebounders in college basketball right now," Driscoll said of Tshiebwe, who continues to lead Division I in cleaning the glass at 16.0 per game.

Kentucky (5-1) showed terrific balance once again despite playing without some of its main pieces. While Jacob Toppin and Lance Ware returned from injuries, Keion Brooks and Davion Mintz missed the game with flu-like symptoms.

Daimion Collins stepped in for Brooks, earning his first start at UK. The freshman forward responded with 12 points and six rebounds while blocking one shot and altering several others on a night when North Florida shot just 33% (22 of 66) from the field.

TyTy Washington and Dontaie Allen each added 14 points for the Cats, who won handily despite shooting just 47% from the field and going 6-of-25 from beyond the 3-point arc.

Kentucky led just 37-23 at the half but broke the game open with an 18-7 spurt early in the second half. The Cats led by as many as 37 late in the game.

"Here's what I liked," UK coach John Calipari said. "We fought, and we defended. That's what we did. We scrambled. We played. We came up with balls, and we flew."

The Ospreys (1-6) were led by Jadyn Parker with 10 points. Former Lexington Christian standout Hendricksen added eight points in his return home.

*****

In this Rapid Recap feature, we touch on some quick hitters from the UK victory...

GAME BALL:

Sahvir Wheeler, Kentucky -- He's only 5-foot-9, if that, but UK's point guard plays like the old idiom "10-feet tall and bulletproof." He's absolutely fearless on both ends of the floor, and has the Cats playing at an exciting tempo this season. It was his third game with double-figure assists this season.

BY THE NUMBERS:

1st - Meeting between Kentucky and North Florida on the hardwood.

3rd - Time in six games this season that the Cats have placed at least five players in double-figure scoring.

13 - Steals for UK, tying the second-most in the John Calipari era. TyTy Washington led the way with four.

+17 - Rebounding margin for the Cats, who lead the nation in that category. UK has outrebounded all six opponents this season and has a plus-19.8 average margin for the season.

28-0 - Advantage for UK in transition points.

19,350 - A season-high crowd at Rupp Arena.

QUOTABLE:

"For us, if we don’t shoot the 3 well, we can always go rebound and run. That’s one thing we do best and not many people can keep up with that.” -- UK center/forward Oscar Tshiebwe

UP NEXT:

Kentucky returns to action Monday night at Rupp Arena against Central Michigan, led by former UK assistant Tony Barbee. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. ET on SEC Network+ and ESPN+ streaming services only. It's the second and final of the streaming-only games on the schedule.