Kentucky hasn't looked like the trendy preseason Final Four team many -- myself included -- pegged it to be so far this season. But even wobbling No. 19 Kentucky had no problems with ACC laughingstock Louisville on Saturday as John Calipari and his Wildcats took care of business inside Rupp Arena to dominate his long-time understudy Kenny Payne and the Cardinals in the annual rivalry meeting 86-63.
The win gave Kentucky, which had lost two of its last three games entering the weekend, an important confidence boost if nothing else after recent hit-or-miss play of late. Three players finished in double figures and both Jacob Toppin and Oscar Tshiebwe poured in 24 points each as UK (9-4) led wire-to-wire.
NO STOPPIN' TOPPIN pic.twitter.com/1gR9GoMbwN— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) December 31, 2022
"It takes time when you've got new teams, to do this," Calipari said about UK's recent struggles and its ability to get back on track. "I wish I was smarter and would be quicker to pick stuff up, but I seem to do the same thing."
Calipari has been tinkering ad nauseam of late with UK's rotations and lineups but that was not the case Saturday. No, Saturday he rode his starters hard and limited his bench to a surprising degree. Even in a blowout, Sahvir Wheeler played 39 minutes, Cason Wallace played 37, Tshiebwe played 36 and and Toppin played 35. Ten players got into action for Kentucky but in a game that was out of hand fairly early, Calipari rode his starters longer than usual and only six players got double-digit minutes.
"That was intentional," Calipari said, following through on what he said he would do after the loss to Missouri earlier in the week by limiting the rotation. "We all forget what we've been through every year to get a team right. I'm mad at myself because we needed to be playing more deliberate. We played deliberate, which is what my teams have done historically, and we scored a lot of points playing deliberately. If my teams play this way, play deliberate, we're fine."
Calipari improved to 12-3 in games against Louisville since he took over at Kentucky and maintained a perfect record (7-0) against Louisville at Rupp Arena with the win Saturday. It pushed Louisville to a 2-12 record for Louisville in Payne's first season.