No. 10 Kentucky holds off Southern 76-64 in Unity Series opener

The Wildcats are riding a seven game win streak

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ/UK ATHLETICS) – Oscar Tshiebwe scored 18 of his 23 points after halftime despite being in foul trouble, TyTy Washington Jr. added 14 points and both Wildcats keyed small runs to help No. 10 Kentucky top Southern 76-64 on Tuesday night for its seventh consecutive victory.

Jayden Saddler had 18 points, Brion Whitley added 14 points and Tyrone Lyons 12 for Southern, which dropped its second consecutive game.

Playing for the first time in eight days, the Wildcats (7-1) went back and forth with the Jaguars (3-6) for much of the first half before taking the lead for good at 29-26 on Kellan Grady’s 3-pointer. It sparked an 8-0 run to put Kentucky up 38-34 at the break.

Tshiebwe sat for the final nine minutes of the first half with two fouls, but came back on the floor in the second half to lend 6 points and 4 rebounds to Kentucky’s 13-5 run for a 51-39 cushion.

The Wildcats needed it, as Southern closed to 57-51 before Tshiebwe and Washington combined for nine points to make it 66-53. Kentucky stayed ahead just enough the rest of the way to close out the team’s closest victory this season after a run of blowouts.

Tshiebwe made his final seven shots to finish 9 of 11 from the field and grabbed 11 rebounds for his nation-leading seventh double-double. Grady and Davion Mintz each added nine points as the Wildcats shot 49% and won the contest on the boards 41-25.

The game kicked off the five-game Unity Series matching Kentucky against Southwestern Athletic Conference schools to raise awareness and funds for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

The Jaguars’ fast, physical game and 3-point capability allowed them to lead several times in the first half and keep things interesting. They just couldn’t string together enough baskets to keep pace with Kentucky or prevent Tshiebwe from taking charge in the second half.

Some rust was expected, and initially showed up in the Wildcats’ slow shooting start. Baskets eventually started falling and it helped to have Davion Mintz back from a three-game absence because of illness. He contributed a couple of 3s in the first half, and every bucket was needed to keep Southern at arm’s length.

Southern plays host to Lindsey Wilson College on Thursday.

Kentucky’s next game is Saturday at Notre Dame as the Wildcats try to avenge last year’s 64-63 home loss.

To view the game box score, click here.

Here are postgame quotes provided by UK Athletics:

Q. Sean Woods was out here talking a lot about the Underground Railroad experience and how it was very enlightening, what was your experience you took away from that?

JOHN CALIPARI: I was really uncomfortable. It makes you think. And you know, how would you be in the mid-1800s if you lived in the South?

If you lived in the South, if I had the same heart, would I be the same person? Just made me uncomfortable. I was with the guys but I was more reading. I needed about another three hours because it was educational, and the people that were there were unbelievable. I’m going to call them educators. When I would tell you for everybody, if you, you know, the history and you know, Cincinnati’s part, it’s a big deal.

But it was good that both teams got to do it with the radio show (Monday) with both teams and both coaches. The Name, Image and Likeness educational component we did (Monday). This McClendon (Leadership) Initiative is going to, you know, is going to benefit by this game, too. So, there were a lot of things that we did. Now, thank goodness we won because they played harder than us. Sean (Woods) did a better job of coaching his team than I did. Where did they get it in the first half? Likek, were you amazed? Anybody watching the game here? What did they get a lot of? [Signals layups.] That was me. I had us too spread out all over the court. And what did they give us? The same. They were tight and in and what we did in the second half, we just said we’re playing tight. Now, the problem with that, and I told the guys, because we were getting beat on the dribble so bad, the problem is you’re not going to have as many possessions. So, that means there’s going to be eight to 10 shots less a game that are carved up amongst your team. You’re playing to win, don’t worry. We had some guys not play well. Let’s give it to Southern, they played harder than some guys. When a guy is playing harder than you, you don’t have confidence.

Now, my kids are not machines and they are not computers. They don’t play great every night. I’m not feeling good, so imagine a couple of those guys aren’t feeling good. But you’ve got to give Southern credit for how they played, and what I said yesterday on the radio show, all the tapes I watched, they never stopped playing. Didn’t matter what the score was. Just like today.

Q. Does Oscar Tshiebwe know what the number on his back represents, that number, and how Kenny Walker played? Does he know that?

JOHN CALIPARI: Probably not. Obviously I’m in this profession and the kids know the last three years. If you asked about Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), they would say, ‘Who?’ Oscar Robertson, you know, triple-double, you know. I mean, it’s–but I’ll say this: He’s playing for the team, the fans. He doesn’t get the ball. He never hangs his head. We’re still trying to figure out how to play him and post it. You notice we did some stuff different today. I’m not playing him like I played Anthony Davis because he’s not Anthony Davis or Karl Towns; he’s different than those guys. We’re doing some different things. But teams are going to collapse. What does that mean you’re going to have to do? Ball fake an open shot? Drive it in there? Or are you going to have shoot a jump shot you can make. If it’s only a two, I don’t care. But you’ve got to make shots. Because they are going to collapse, that’s what they are going to do. That’s what I do. He still caught the ball, but thank goodness–you know, again, my argument again is, if they are boxing you out and displacing you and you jump the rebound, it’s not an over the back.

Now, they said he pushed. I’ll watch the tape. If he pushed, it’s a foul. If he jumped straight up and the guy pushed him like that, that ain’t a foul. Here’s the problem: He’s 255 pounds. My suggestion is, go recruit somebody 255 pounds to play against him. That is his advantage in most games we’re going to play.

Q. This was your first games since the opener he had everybody available. Were the minutes what you wanted?
JOHN CALIPARI: Bryce (Hopkins) went 50% yesterday in practice. I asked him at half, is your back good enough to go? I wanted to get him in, but what I’m going to do is over the next 10 days, we’ve got to start making the decision on some guys getting more minutes and some guys getting less. It doesn’t matter what year you are, none of that, and so if we have a roster of 11, I’m not going to play 11 guys. I mean, now, who are the guys that aren’t playing, you have to be ready to go. Today, you know, I went with Davion (Mintz) because I wanted him out there to get his wheels underneath him to go. Dontaie (Allen) played some. But he’s behind Davion. It’s just what it is. Davion ended up with five rebounds again. This kid ends up rebounding the ball. Defensively, he struggled and so did some of the other guys. Wasn’t one of Sahvir’s (Wheeler) better games, but what we did find out, he can really do a good job of pulling up on elbows and making that shot, would you say? So, we learned a little bit, OK, let’s incorporate that for him.

It just takes time, and you can’t skip steps. I want to skip steps. But you don’t. I thought Jacob (Toppin) gave us great energy. There may be two guys that you’re going to play if he plays bet, you’re playing less, if you both play well you’re going to both play the same amount. I mean, I may go with that a little bit. But I thought Jacob’s energy, the last play where the kid tried to outrun him, that would have been a dunk if it wasn’t Jacob. ‘Well, I tried to run. He ran faster than me.’ Can’t, you know.

But you win a game–that team is picked to win their league. The games that I’ve watched, have a chance to win them all. And you are hoping they played today–they competed. I told Sean as I walked off, ‘Play that way in your league and you’ll be fine. You play like you just did tonight in your league, you’ll be fine.’

Q. You mentioned earlier trying to do some different things with Oscar in the points. Several times in the second half he was able to get the ball in the low post and score. How encouraging is that to see him have some success down low and are the different things that you’re trying, working?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, we needed him to win the game to go get some balls, you know, when they were switching and he held off. The biggest thing on a guy like that when we throw you the ball, you must catch it because if you don’t, they will never throw it to you. We had a couple thrown to the wing that could have been posted and the guy threw it out. Like, why didn’t you just throw it to him? Think thought on the other wing away from our bench, he caught it. From that, he kicked out and we got plays.

Look, teams are going to trap. They are going to trap from the top. They are going to trap from the bottom. We have to get them ready. You know, just we’ve got to get him ready. We’ve got to try to get him, again, we’ll look at the fouls and I’m going to show him, you can’t do these things but most of them are, you’re playing too late. In other words, play before the ball is shot. Not after it’s shot and then you push. You can’t. But we’ll look. We’ll watch. You know, we’ll get a chance to see it and teach.

Q. Was Texas Southern beating Florida last night a teaching tool for you guys?

JOHN CALIPARI: I called Johnny Jones this morning, I said, ‘why did you do that?’ Now, you just gave Southern, they think they are going to beat us now. We have got a tiger on our hands, and Johnny laughed, and we talked about the game a little bit. But I’ve known Johnny for years and years, and you know, it was a heck of win. And they we were 0-7. Did you look at their schedule? Ridiculous. But if you look at Sean’s schedule, it’s the same way. I mean, these teams go, and what happens, though, is if you have some success, you really start believing even though you didn’t win the game, we can win these games.

Now it becomes a different kind of game. They out-hustled us. They out-played us. We couldn’t stay in front of them. They crowded the court and stayed in front of us. We had to then go back and crowd the court and it shortens the game when you do that. We missed nine free throws. Don’t get fouled then. If you don’t make free throws, don’t get fouled. Let somebody else shoot. Missed nine. We’re look the best free throw shooting team in the country.

Q. I remember you telling us at the beginning that you had pretty good guards. I think they are still pretty good. What’s keeping from you maybe putting four of them out on the floor at one time?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, the size of the guards. So, if you put Sahvir, Davion, Kellan, Kellan got zero rebounds today, okay. He’s the biggest one of the group. And then TyTy, you’re really, really small. So would I do it? I did it late just because they did it.

I like — I like to say who is the four. I thought Damion did some good stuff today. He’s getting better. He’s confident. You get in the boxing match, you get in the ring and the other guy is coming right at you and he’s playing and he’s fighting harder than you, you’re going to be confident? No, you — you’re like — you’re looking around, you know, you have to understand, you build your own confidence. You go after people. You respect everybody. You fear no one. Don’t fear anybody. I’m good, too. But if you let the guy outplay you, you look like you have no confidence. So again, we try to tell the guys, I sent them, all of them, Texas Southern, big win at Florida. They are picked fourth in their league. This team (Southern) is picked first. You’d better come ready. So they really — I don’t think we were — I just think that we had a couple guys not play well. And they are not machines. I’m not mad. You know what I told them after? You know what’s good about this team? A couple of you don’t play well, I’ll put in somebody else and they will play well and you just sit there and watch and then get yourself ready. That’s what’s good about having depth.

Q. I wanted to ask you about Dontaie (Allen). He shot an air ball, he fouled a three-point shooter. He’s not shooting well over a stretch. What’s going on there? How steep of a climb does he have, do you think?

JOHN CALIPARI: You know, again, I love the kid. I mean, he’s — he has gotten better. But everybody’s judging him based on just made shots, so now it’s the hardest thing in the game to do. But I told him, if you’re open, you have to shoot — if you don’t shoot, you’re coming out.

Why did he take you out? Because I didn’t shoot? No, he took you out because of a mistake — the other guy’s mistake — no, no, he took me out because I did not shoot. What? Well, why didn’t you shoot. Oh, just I didn’t make a couple, so I didn’t want to shoot. What’s he saying? He doesn’t care if I make them. I have to shoot.

Again, I ask you this, what are you doing if you’re not making shots to help us win? And not just Dontaie, that’s this whole team. You’re not making shots, what do you do to help us win? Are you a defensive stopper? But what do you do? You’re not playing well. Do you have no rebounds or one rebound? Well, wait a minute, you can do that. That’s all effort.

So you know, like I said, we’ve got a gauntlet coming in. I just heard Notre Dame’s recruiting football weekend, the big one, it’s going to be a party and a celebration and here comes Kentucky to town. That will just amp it up about 20 times, and I’ll tell you, let’s go because it’s going to be a physical energetic engaged game, hopefully by both teams. I know Notre Dame will play like that. I have a lot of respect for Mike Brey. Here is a game I just watched, 44-44 regulation, could we play in a game like that? I don’t know. You know, that’s that kind of game, a game in the 90s, we’ve got to try to play everything. I did some things at the end of the game just to see how we can finish off a game and it’s a work-in-progress, folks. All I can tell you the first half, how we played defensively, that’s on me. I spread them out too much, I thought we could do it and still guard but we brought it in and slowed down the game, but again, coaches don’t win games, not just try to score a lot of points.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

UK Student-Athletes

#4, Daimion Collins, Freshman, Forward

On playing a game that’s very physical …
“You’ve just gotta play hard, try to rebound every ball and give 110 percent the whole game.”

On being excited to finally play some of the big games on the schedule …
“Most definitely, I’m just excited to go out there and compete and have a good game where tonight the other team played hard, it was a good game tonight. But you know other games the competition will be different.”

On seeing the Freedom Center …
“It was real good you know? I learned a lot of stuff I didn’t know, some stuff I did know, and understanding how stuff was back then.”

#34, Oscar Tshiebwe, Junior, Forward

On the team’s potential now that players are returning …
“To me this team is good, but we have had a couple of people off. They came back slow but we are working so we can we support each other and keep getting better like always. We had a great practice with this team, Coach told us they are coming to try their best to beat us, but we have got to come to play too. It was a tough game, but I’m glad we won, we can learn from these games and watch video to get better.”

On how the mindset changes with three tough games coming up …
“Now is big-boy time. So, we go fight. Like Coach says, if you’re not willing to fight then go be a cheerleader on the bench. We know now it’s tough to work hard, but it’s a good time to work hard, to go fight. We’re going to go and fight to get better. I know we’re going to be ready for this upcoming game.”

On his approach on not fouling out …
“When I got those two fouls, I was just bringing a lot of energy and I don’t know when I get lost. In the game, I wanted my head to stay in the game. Coming back, I had a mentality about winning this game. I’ve got to be careful. My Coach told me in a locker room, ‘If you see you cannot get it, don’t reach just go back, it’s not a touchdown.’ I was coming back down the floor telling myself I can get a post-up. I got to do my thing and I dominated because they did not have a big man. They can’t stop me down there. When I grab a rebound, it gives more of an opportunity for our team.”

#3, TyTy Washington Jr., Freshman, Guard

On the game …
“It wasn’t our best, but we still got the job done, so that’s all that matters. I felt like as a whole it could have been way better, we all as a team know that, so back to the drawing board. Satisfied with the win, but back to the drawing board to get better.”

On playing higher levels of competition …
“Even though were coming in being favorites, we don’t look at it like that. At the end of the day you got to respect your opponent. Anybody could beat anybody on any given day in college basketball. So we just come out with the same mindset as if you’re playing against, you know, Duke or somebody so it’s just, come out, get ready to focus and I’m ready you know ultimately win the game”

On playing against smaller players …
“Smaller guys tend to be way faster. They had a lot of guys on their team that could create off the bounce, so that’s what they were doing. You know they were attacking us because they knew they were smaller and were using their speed to their advantage.”

Southern Head Coach Sean Woods

Opening statement …
“It was good coming home. Thought I could sneak one. Couple plays here and there down the stretch got (Kentucky) separation to where couldn’t and have enough time to get it. But I’m proud of our guys for answering the bell in an environment like this. We’ve got things to build on. I thought the players who were supposed to make the plays for them made them. I thought Oscar (Tshiebwe) was the difference down the stretch. He took advantage of our switching. We were trying to put pressure on them and actually camouflage, so we couldn’t see, and our guys kind of missed it a little bit. It was a step or two late. But for the most part, we did what we were supposed to do. Like any team, it’s tough winning on the road. But I saw some great things out of our basketball team. That makes me very optimistic about the future of this basketball team and hopefully getting to the NCAA Tournament.”

On being part of the inaugural Unity Series at Kentucky …
“It means a lot. I tell you what, these last few days have been awesome in leading up to this basketball game. I thought going to the Underground Railroad museum was very educational and very eye-opening. I tell my guys all the time, it’s bigger than basketball. This week and this situation—and I’m going to tip my hat because he’s my guy and he’s my strength coach, (Kentucky Executive Associate Athletics Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) Ray ‘Rock’ Oliver did a great job of organizing this deal, especially the deal in Cincinnati, for both teams. It was very eye-opening for coaches and players. The way this world is right now, we need all to find a way to help one another. I think that’s what this whole deal was all about. I’m just so thankful that (Kentucky head coach John Calipari) gave me the call first to do this because it was totally awesome.”

On what it means for his team to play a competitive game inside Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center …
“It means a lot, you know what I mean? But we don’t look at moral victories. Most teams at our level, especially in our league, we have to play these types of games because of financial situations. But I have a team now, I think, that I don’t have to point-gage. What I mean by point-gage is trying to say, ‘Okay, we want to stay under this, we want to stay under that.’ I thought my team was good enough, and it showed tonight that we were capable, a few possessions here, a few possessions there, of actually having a chance to win the basketball game. So that’s what I get from my team that they came in thinking that way. Are they happy that they played with Kentucky? No, they’re in (the locker room) thinking, ‘If I’d have gotten that block-out…’ ‘Why didn’t you chase down that rebound?’ ‘When they threw it inside, if I was there quicker, he wouldn’t have gotten the shot and got an and-one.’ You know, they’re in there thinking that. That’s how I want them to think. But at the end of the day, you’ve still got to tip your hat to Cal and them because I knew he was going to be ready after Texas Southern beat Florida last night. I told my team, I said, ‘I’m telling you right now, he probably got them up in the middle of the night after that game to say, ‘Hey, we can’t lose, too.’ These two teams are the top two teams in their league. ‘They went into Florida, who’s one of the top teams in our league, and got them, and not only got them, beat them by 15. These teams are capable.’ The way college basketball is right now, there is no dominant team anymore at any level because there are no older guys. The really good players are going to the NBA early. Now, it’s kind of an even playing field a little bit, and everything is getting comparable. Every night, we feel that we can win a basketball game if the stars are lined up right and the travel isn’t as bad.”

On Jayden Saddler’s progress …
“I tell you what, man. You’re talking about a kid that has persevered a lot. You know, every coach has favorites. I had a thing. My favorites are guys that listen, guys that come to me for advice, guys that can take constructive criticism, guys who answer the bell and have gone through some type of adversity. He’s the epitome of that. And I think I have one of the best guards in the country at any level. He’s paid his dues, and those concussions and things like that are behind him. Now he’s showing the world that a kid from Baltimore, Maryland, can really play the game of basketball. I’ve always had successful teams when I had East Coast guards and he’s the epitome of one of them.”

On what he thinks when he sees Oscar Tshiebwe in foul trouble early …
“Well, you have a chance, you know what I mean? You take the nation’s leading rebounder out of the game. You know, you saw when Cal put him back in what happens. He stays out the game and fouls out, it’s a 13-point game. It might not be a 13-point game. They went right to it and took advantage of it. He answered the bell. That’s why he’s one of the best big guys in the country.”

On being a sixth-man defensive person …
“I envy my players every day because I wish I could still play basketball. And I’d give anything to go back and have my experience I had at the University of Kentucky. You know the guys I played with. We went through some things any other player at the University of Kentucky has gone through. It was tough, but it was rewarding. (Lexington Herald-Leader reporter Jerry Tipton) asked me the other day some questions about the players, and I left one person out, and he’s here today. It wasn’t just me, John (Pelphrey), Deron (Feldhaus), and Richie (Farmer). It was Reggie Hanson, Johnathon Davis and Jeff Brassow. I tell people all the time, we might’ve won the national championship if (Brassow) didn’t get hurt. You know, he averaged 16 points a game when he got hurt in the first five or six games. So every time I get a chance to come here, I just get emotional because I gave a lot of my life and everything I had, and I did everything people asked me to do at this university. And it was very rewarding afterwards. And this university has made me the man and coach that I am today.”

Southern University Student-Athlete

#5 Jayden Saddler, G, Sr.

On the matchup with Sahvir Wheeler
“I feel as though Sahvir is a very tough matchup. I knew the whole night. I watched a lot of film, I knew the whole night was going to be downhill. I just wanted to play confident. I felt like I was just as good as him. The whole week we’ve been here Coach (Sean Woods) built that confidence in me and just told me to go out there and play as head. I’m just as good. So, I felt like it was me versus him.”

On what he got out of all the events from the week …
“The (Underground Railroad) Museum was a very touching event. We realized a lot of history that we didn’t learn in school. Like coach said, it wasn’t just black folks helping black folks, it was a lot of white folks helping black folks. It was a lot of touching moments and it was just a great experience.”

On what he feels his team proved in this game …
“I believe we proved that on any given night, we’re just as good as anyone in the country. We had a couple of mistakes here and there, and I feel like we lost the ball game off of our mistakes. But we’re just as good as anyone in the country, and we wanted to make a statement tonight. I felt as we did.”

On what it is like playing for Sean Woods…
“Coach Woods is the type of guy, he’s not going to let off. Every day, he’s going to be him, and he’s not going to change. You’ve got to be his type of guy to play for him. You’ve got to have that tough, that grit, that mindset that you’re going to win. Like you said, everyone’s not his type of guy. So, you’ve got to play or you’re going to get exposed. He’s going to challenge you to be the best that you can be. He’s going to push you every day to become a better man. He’s a great Coach.”

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