Kentucky Basketball played its fourth and final exhibition game of its preseason Bahamas trip Sunday afternoon before the team boarded a flight back home to Lexington. The opponent was the local Bahamas National Select Team, by far the toughest competition of Kentucky’s four opposing teams at Baha Mar Resort.
Right away, the Bahamians looked the part with several mature and physical players who took it to the young and exhausted Wildcats at the beginning of the game, going up by as many as eight points in the first half to challenge Kentucky for the first time all week.
On the broadcast, CJ Fredrick said in an in-game interview from the bench that his teammates were feeling worn out on Day 7 in paradise, especially with the first noon tip of the trip. But Fredrick, who did not play, was still confident his teammates would catch up and pull away before the game’s end. Moments later, Kentucky did just that by turning the eight-point deficit into a one-point lead at halftime with Sahvir Wheeler’s lay-in as time expired to end the first period.
After halftime, Kentucky spread its winning margin to 24 points with more hot shooting around the perimeter. In the end, the ‘Cats fell two points shy of yet another 100-piece in the Bahamas, winning Game 4 by a final score of 98-74 in the most competitive game of the four exhibitions on the foreign tour.
Here’s what stood out from the game:
Antonio Reeves led Kentucky in scoring again, earning MVP honors for the trip
No one did more for their stock than Antonio Reeves, the guard transfer from Illinois State who leaves Nassau as a surprise fan favorite. Reeves was excellent throughout the entire trip and led the whole team in scoring with a combined 68 points (17.0 per game) in his four-exhibition game debut.
In Sunday’s game, Reeves was again the individual high-scorer with 22 points and four made 3-pointers, bringing his final tally for the week to 14-for-27 from outside, an outrageous 51.85% clip from 3. After the game, assistant coach Chin Coleman called Reeves the “real deal” and said, “Big Blue Nation now sees what we saw (when Kentucky nabbed Reeves from the portal).”
Worth noting, Coleman and Reeves are from the same southside area of Chicago. Coleman also revealed Reeves’ nickname within the team is, “Tone,” or, “Two-Tone,” according to Reeves himself.
Today, we’ll call him MVP.
Jacob Toppin was also a big surprise
One point shy of matching Reeves’ 68 points, Jacob Toppin is another breakout performer from the trip to the Bahamas at 16.8 points per game. Against the Bahamians, Toppin had 20 and five boards in a team-high 33 minutes played from a starting role. Not just his scoring, Toppin’s defense helped spark the run that put Kentucky ahead in Sunday’s game.
Given what we saw out of Toppin, there’s a chance he can be the best all-around player on the team this year and, if that’s the case, Kentucky will be DANGEROUS with a one-of-a-kind stretch dunker like Toppin.
Orlando Antigua, who served as the team’s head coach, said John Calipari was interested to see how Toppin would play against the grown men on the Bahamas National Team. After the fact, it’s fair to say Toppin held his own, and more.
Today’s starting lineup
To start the game, Calipari slid Cason Wallace back over to the two from his first start at point guard on Saturday, allowing Sahvir Wheeler to retain his starting role for the finale. On the wing and inside, Kentucky went back to its first group of the trip with Jacob Toppin, Daimion Collins, and Oscar Tshiebwe starting the game.
G – Sahvir Wheeler
G – Cason Wallace
F – Jacob Toppin
F – Daimion Collins
F/C – Oscar Tshiebwe
Cal will never zone, but the length and athleticism on this team could thrive in zone D.
Cason Wallace does a great Calipari impersonation
Wallace has only been on the team for two-and-a-half months, yet he already has his John Calipari impersonation down.
As for Wallace’s play, he is a “go, go, go” guard with a little bit of everything in his bag, but it is his defense that will keep him on the floor often.
Oscar Tshiebwe got his double-double
The day after Oscar Tshiebwe‘s outrageous +54 in 22 minutes against Carleton University, he battled the Bahamian bigs for 11 points and 12 rebounds in 27 minutes on the floor.
For the trip, Tshiebwe averaged his usual double-double with 11.5 points and 11.3 rebounds in only 23.5 minutes per game. Even better, he made a ton of money through NIL during the one and only week he can work without restrictions due to Kentucky Basketball being outside the United States.
Reports from Baha Mar say he was the most lovable and friendly person at the resort, too. No surprise there.
John Calipari signed school excuses for the kids in attendance
It wasn’t John Calipari’s best week as an ambassador of UK Athletics, but he was still the lovable John Calipari in the Bahamas through the team’s charitable work and his interactions with the fans who made the big commitment to cheer on Kentucky on-site. One example of Cal being Cal today, he wrote personalized notes for the young fans in the crowd who blew off the start of school back in Kentucky.
Imagine skipping class and having a note from Calipari to give your teachers. I really could’ve used his help at Madisonville North-Hopkins back in the day.
Here are the team’s cumulative stats from the four games
The Prime Minister of the Bahamas was the honorary Y
Escorted by Ellen Calipari, the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Philip Davis, brought an old Rupp Arena tradition to Nassau by serving as the honorary Y during a break in Sunday’s game. According to Kyle Tucker, Davis also received a bottle of bourbon from Coach Cal for the hospitality.
Up next: A week off from basketball
Once Kentucky Basketball touches down at Blue Grass Airport, they’ll break for a week to rest up from the weeklong work trip at Baha Mar. When they return in seven days, it’s back to work in getting ready for the upcoming season.
After what we saw in the Bahamas, expectations are it will be a fun year for the Wildcats.
The wait will be the hardest part.