No. 10 Kentucky struggles in 76-64 win against Southern


Kentucky Wildcats forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) celebrates during the UK vs. Southern basketball game on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 76-64. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Hunter Shelton

No. 10 Kentucky (7-1) inched past Southern (3-6) 76-64 on Tuesday night in Rupp Arena.

The victory was UK’s seventh in a row, following the season-opening loss to Duke. 

Despite a 12-point victory, UK head coach John Calipari felt like his team was outplayed in multiple facets on Tuesday night.

“[Southern] 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,” Calipari said. 

The Jaguars hung with UK for almost all 40 minutes, with their biggest deficit being 14 points with just under two minutes remaining in the game. 

Southern guard Jayden Saddler led the Jaguars with 18 points, which was second amongst all scorers. Saddler also tallied six assists, four rebounds and a steal to go along with 9-17 shooting from the floor. 

“I think I have one of the best guards in the country,” Southern head coach Sean Woods said about Saddler. “He’s showing the world that a kid from Baltimore, Maryland can really play the game of basketball.” 

Tuesday night was a homecoming of sorts for Woods. A member of the infamous “unforgettables” team, Woods played for Kentucky from 1989-92. Nearly three decades later, Woods returned to the same building with his name in the rafters, on the opposing bench. 

“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…this university has made me the man and the coach that I am today,” Woods said. 

What was already a special night for Woods, almost became even more special, as his Jaguars gave Kentucky fits all night on Tuesday, never allowing the Wildcats to make a run and leave them behind. 

“I’m proud of our guys for answering the bell in an environment like this,” Woods said. “It’s tough winning on the road, but I saw some great things from this team that makes me very optimistic about the future.”

Oscar Tshiebwe finished the night as Kentucky’s leading scorer and rebounder, finishing with 23 points and 11 boards. Tshiebwe has accumulated a double-double in seven of eight games this season for UK. 

“We needed [Tshiebwe] to win the game,” Calipari said. 

18 of Tshiebwe’s 23 points came in the second half, as the West Virginia transfer shot 7-8 from the floor after the break. Tshiebwe was held to just five points and three rebounds at halftime due to foul trouble early. 

With 9:21 remaining in the first half, Tshiebwe was called for an over-the-back foul, which grew audible groans from the Rupp Arena crowd. 

Post-game, Calipari maintained that Tshiebwe’s size should not be a disadvantage for him in the paint when wrangling in rebounds:

“My argument is, if they are boxing you out and displacing you, and you jump to rebound, it’s not an over-the-back [foul,]” Calipari said. “Here’s the problem…[Tshiebwe] is 255 pounds. My suggestion is, go recruit somebody 255 pounds to play against him. That is his advantage.” 

Aside from Tshiebwe, TyTy Washington Jr was the only other Wildcat to reach double-digits in scoring on Tuesday. Washington hauled in 14 points, five assists and a steal against the Jaguars. 

Washington knows that sometimes teams are going to keep it close against UK down the stretch, and it is important to garner the experience of a close game as a freshman:

“Not every game we’re going to be able to get out and run in transition,” Washington said. “It’s a grown man game, you have to grind it out at the end of the day and be more physical than your opponent.” 

While the Wildcats had to win a slugfest against Southern, they were able to do it at almost full-strength. 

Davion Mintz returned after missing UK’s past three games due to illness. In 16 minutes, Mintz totaled nine points on just 2-9 shooting while earning five rebounds and an assist. 

11 players took the court on Tuesday for Kentucky, eight of whom saw double-digit minutes in-game. 

The Wildcats powered through a seven-game home stand, winning all seven, each by double-digits. As conference play nears, the Cats face a trio of non-conference challenges, beginning on Saturday, Dec. 11, against Notre Dame in South Bend. 

“It’s going to be a physical, energetic, engaged game,” Calipari said about Notre Dame. 

Tip-off against the Fighting Irish is set for 5:15 p.m. E.T and will air on ESPN.