Wildcats dominate Big Blue Bahamas


Michael Clubb

Kentucky Wildcats forward Jacob Toppin (0) dunks the ball during the UK vs. Alabama mens basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 90-81. Photo by Michael Clubb | Kentucky Kernel

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

While it may have been overshadowed by Twitter drama, Kentucky mens basketball put on a clinic in the Bahamas, sweeping the 2022 Big Blue Bahamas and outscoring its opponents by a combined 200 points.

The wins brought the Wildcats to 13-1 in the Caribbean nation, 41-1 in all exhibitions under head coach John Calipari.

Ironically, it was Calipari himself who would take up the headlines surrounding the event as opposed to his team when he referred to Kentucky as a “basketball school,” starting a civil war on social media when UK football coach Mark Stoops fired back at the notion.

Though Calipari’s comments led to criticism from the Big Blue Nation regarding his recent shortcomings in postseason play, Kentucky basketball left very little to criticize in the Bahamas.
Game one saw the Cats shut down the Dominican Republic national team 108-56 with six different players scoring double figures.

While some of the key contributors were usual suspects such as consensus national player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe, much of the offensive production came from new additions to the roster.
Freshmen Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston both combined for 26 points, while Illinois State transfer Antonio Reeves amassed 12 points as well.

Calipari also saw improvement in two returning stars Damion Collins and Lance Ware, with the former scoring 15 points against the Dominican Republic.

Next, challenging Mexican collegiate squad Tec de Monterrey which was boosted roster-wise with u23 national team players, UK again easily conquered its opponents, this time winning 102-40.
Returning starting point guard Sahvir Wheeler co-led the Wildcats in scoring against the Mexican squad with 14 points along with Livingston.

Collins once again scored double-digits but this time was joined by yet another improved returning player: Jacob Toppin.

Though it wouldn’t be his defining performance of the event, Toppin scored 12 points against Monterrey to go along with 11 rebounds.

Not to be completely out-done by Livingston and Wallace, freshman Adou Thiero also joined the list of new youth prospects to amass a double-digit point total, scoring 13 points in 22 minutes.
Switching to game three of the event, Kentucky secured arguably its best win of the entire pre-season tournament, throttling Canadian Carleton College 118-56.

While Canadian collegiate athletics are a far cry from their United States counterparts, Carleton College has found significant success as a program with UK’s 62 point win going down as the worst loss in program history, also marking the first 40-plus point loss the team has suffered in 18 years.
Toppin was by far the standout performer in the lopsided win, going off for 27 points, going 11-14 from the field and not missing a shot for the entirety of the first half.

Despite Toppin’s headline-catching play, he was not the only Wildcat to reach the 20-point mark against Carleton, with Reeves also adding 23 of his own, knocking down three shots from beyond the arc.

Both Wheeler and Wallace added 17 and 15 points of their own as well, topping off the statement offensive showing for Kentucky.

The Cats would have a short turnaround from beating Carleton at night to challenging the veteran Bahamas national team the next morning, with it showing in the final total.
Though still a blowout, Kentucky was unable to create the same separation it did en route to its three 50-plus point wins prior.

Kentucky ultimately defeated the Bahamas 98-74 on the backs of Toppin, Wheeler and Reeves’ 20-plus points.

Toppin combined for 67 points across all four games, just one behind Reeves who totaled 68 and led all Wildcats for the tournament.

With both leading scorers being a transfer and a returner who averaged just 6.2 points per game the year prior, Kentucky fans have a lot to look forward to regarding the coming team.
With a returning national player of the year on the court, five star freshmen and a returning veteran point guard able to be on the court at once, Kentucky’s dominant showing in the Bahamas should hardly be a surprise.

While many fans may feel burned after UK’s disastrous NCAA Tournament loss to Saint Peter’s the year prior and Calipari’s comments going public during the event, it may be hard for Wildcat fans to allow themselves to buy into the basketball program, but if the Bahamas are any indication, the sky’s the limit for the Cats.