COLUMN: Three takeaways from Cats’ London victory


Jackson Dunavant

Kentucky Wildcats forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) dunks the ball during the Kentucky vs. North Florida mens basketball game on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 96-56. Photo by Jackson Dunavant | Staff

Ali Cetinok, Asst. Sports Editor

Kentucky head coach John Calipari and the Cats earned their first win over a major conference opponent this season on Sunday, defeating Michigan 73-69 in London.

With any result this early in the season, there is still plenty of room to grow and still a lot to figure out. With that said, because of how badly Kentucky needed the win against the Wolverines for the sake of the season thus far, there were a handful of answers to posed questions that can be found in the winning effort.

Here are three things we learned from Kentucky basketball’s win over Michigan:

Cason Wallace is the most clutch player on the team

Cason Wallace left his mark against Michigan State in the Champions Classic earlier this season, though he was still unable to lift the Cats over Tom Izzo’s Spartans.

Sunday, against Juwan Howard’s Wolverines, was a different story, though.

Wallace finished with 14 points, eight boards and five assists, but his most important bucket was a clutch 3-pointer with only about a minute left on the clock that put the Cats ahead 71-66, a deficit Michigan was never able to recover from.

Not only was Wallace pivotal on offense, being perfect in four attempts from beyond the arc, he also made his presence felt on defense, recording a block and a steal.

With Wallace showing he can be reliable in important moments, there should be little doubt that the ball needs to be in his hands with the games on the line moving forward.

Antonio Reeves should be the primary shooter

Starting in three of UK’s eight games so far this season, Antonio Reeves has shot 43% from the field, tied for the highest 3-point shooting percentage along with Wallace, hitting 50% from beyond the arc. Perhaps even more impressively, Reeves has done so and hit 12 more made threes than Wallace.

With Reeves shooting four and making three against the Wolverines, scoring 11 points in the game, it is important to remember his field goal, 3-point and free-throw percentages all went up every single season at Illinois State.

With CJ Fredrick only shooting around 35% with only 15 made threes on the season thus far, there should be little question as to why much of BBN may feel underwhelmed by his shooting performance; it may very well be that Reeves is the guy that many thought Fredrick was supposed to be.

Onyenso should take minutes and pressure off Tshiebwe

One of the biggest questions posed for the team this offseason and in early stages of this season was whether or not the team can still function without Tshiebwe both offensively and on defense while the big man recovered from surgery.

Luckily for Calipari and Big Blue Nation alike, it is starting to seem like Ugonna Onyenso will be the one to fill those shoes when Tshiebwe is either injured, tired or, as seen against Michigan State, fouling out.

During the Michigan State game, throughout regulation and overtime, when Tshiebwe fouled out or was in foul trouble, Lance Ware came in to fill his role.

Unfortunately for the Cats, this method did not end in success with Kentucky suffering greatly against the Spartans in the periods Tshiebwe was out of the game.

Onyenso, who would still be in high school had he not reclassified, was not really expected to be a big part of the team for Calipari but in just 79 minutes this season the Nigerian has thrown himself in the spotlight as a competent replacement for the Cats, recording totals of 32 points, 30 rebounds and 15 blocks.

With Onyenso’s performances this season thus far, it might simply be a case where many see the freshman be the player they thought Ware was supposed to be, and perhaps the team may even be better with Onyenso getting the backup role instead of the junior.

With SEC play on the doorstep, plenty of questions about the 2022-2023 Kentucky mens basketball team have yet to be answered, but the win over Michigan was crucial for developing an understanding of the team as a whole.

With a matchup against No. 19 UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic sandwiched between matchups against Yale and Florida A&M before conference play kicks off, there is no shortage of opportunities for Calipari to figure out exactly who and how he wants to play, but when he comes to those conclusions, there’s a high likelihood that the Michigan matchup will influence his decisions.