(Photos courtesy UK Athletics)

‘Tis the season for giving and there was an awful lot of that in Rupp Arena Wednesday evening.

   First of all, the schedule-maker gave the Big Blue Nation a break with a 6 p.m. ET start, leaving some time after the game for a late bite or frantic, last-minute Christmas shopping.

  But most of it came courtesy of John Calipari’s Wildcats in a 95-60 rout of a Western Kentucky team that had shown signs of being dangerous.  

   The Hilltoppers had won seven of eight, including a spanking of Louisville, the team that had to take the COVID opt-out. There was also that 71-48 shellacking of Ole Miss two weeks ago, which saw the ‘Toppers hold the Rebels to just 19 first-half points. 

  But against the Wildcats, WKU hardly resembled the team that rolled through those two opponents. That’s because Kentucky was so, SO generous. 

   When it came to giving, Sahvir Wheeler led the way with eight assists; TyTy Washington had six (along with 20 points). They accounted for more than half of UK’s 27 dimes on 38 made buckets, a huge reason for Kentucky’s 55.9 percent field goal percentage.

Kellan Grady hit 6-of-9 three-pointers and poured in 23 points for the Wildcats

    And while we’re talking accuracy (and generosity), Kellan Grady gave his coach, his teammates and his fans something to smile about going into the holiday break by shooting the basketball the way he did in his previous stop at Davidson.

  Picking up where he left off in Vegas against North Carolina, Grady drained 6-of-9 from distance, finishing with 23 points primarily on shots that presented themselves within the flow of the offense. 

    That means in his last two games, Grady has hit 11-of-16 triples, scored 41 points and grabbed nine rebounds. You’d have to think Santa has noticed.

    Transition for the Wildcats came courtesy of the the Rebounding Machine, Oscar Tshiebwe, who snatched a Rupp Arena-record 28 boards despite the fact that he had to battle 7-foot-5 Jamarion Sharp.  The top ‘Topper blocked seven Wildcat shots and hauled in six rebounds of his own before leaving prematurely with an ankle injury.

  WKU’s sharpshooters could never find the range consistently, with Dayton McKnight 2-for-14 and Cameron Justice 5-for-17, missing six of his seven triple tries.

  It all added up to a joyful win for the Cats, who now are 9-2, matching their entire victory total of last season – which is fast becoming a faded memory.

   “When they play like that, they were the best team in America today,” said Western Kentucky coach Rick Stansbury. “Nobody would’ve beat them today.”

   With Kentucky hitting the way it was Wednesday night, the matchup in the paint between Tshiebwe (top rebounder in the USA) and Sharp (top shot-blocker) never really materialized and then disappeared for good after Sharp’s injury. But it got Tshiebwe’s attention early.

  “I was pissed out there,” said the UK center. “I said, ‘How? How are you going to be this tall? What are you eating? What did you do? How tall are your parents?’ “

   Tshiebwe was all smiles during a Kentucky timeout when the arena video board flashed his image with a graphic pointing out his new home court mark for rebounds. Calipari had put him back in the game after pulling Tshiebwe with 25; he promptly grabbed missed shots on three straight trips, further obliterating the previous record held by Shaquille O’Neal (21 in 1990).

  The school record is 34, set in the ’50s by Bill Spivey and matched by Bob Burrow.  Alas, it was never in jeopardy – at least, not on this night. There are many, many more opportunities for Tshiebwe who, thanks to the demand for a post-game TV interview, was late joining his teammates in their locker room.

    They put the delay to good use, each Wildcat grabbing a water bottle so that when Tshiebwe walked through the door, they could ambush him with a shower. Maybe that cooled him off.

    “The time is up,” he said, explaining to the media exactly when (if ever) he’d stop battling for a missed shot. “The game is over. That’s when I’d stop fighting.”

   So Tshiebwe is all about the taking; as in, every missed shot he can get.  But he’s also about the giving because every time he grabs one, unless he’s cramming it back off the offensive glass, he’s giving it up to a teammate and Tuesday night, they gave Western Kentucky all it could handle.

    

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