Calipari ready to set the rotation for ‘big-boy time’


Mike Cyrus

Oscar Tshiebwe and Sahvir Wheeler have been consistent performers for the Kentuck Wildcats this season.

By Keith Taylor, Kentucky Today

LEXINGTON (KT) – Kentucky coach John Calipari is ready to establish his team’s rotation going into the tougher part of a schedule that begins Saturday at Notre Dame.

“We’ve got to start making the decision on some guys getting more minutes and some guys getting less,” he said after his team’s 76-64 win over Southern University Tuesday night. “It doesn’t matter what year you are, none of that, and so if we have a roster of 11, I’m not going to play 11 guys. I mean, now, who are the guys that aren’t playing, you have to be ready to go.”

Because of injuries, the 10th-ranked Wildcats (7-1) haven’t had a full roster intact until the past two weeks and concluded the “tune-up” portion of the schedule — all home games — with seven consecutive victories after opening the season with a 79-71 loss to No. 3 Duke on Nov. 9 in the State Farm Champions Classic.

Kentucky’s top consistent players have been forward Oscar Tshiebwe (15.3 points per game), Sahvir Wheeler (10.8 ppg) and TyTy Washington (14.8 ppg). Veterans Keion Brooks (11.7 ppg), Davion Mintz, and Kellan Grady have shown signs of brilliance. Dontaie Allen, Damion Collins, Lance Ware, Bryce Hopkins and Jacob Toppin will be fighting for minutes as Calipari and his staff determine a path ahead.

‘You know what’s good about this team? A couple of you don’t play well, I’ll put in somebody else and they will play well and you just sit there and watch and then get yourself ready,” the Kentucky coach said. “That’s what’s good about having depth.”

Tshiebwe has recorded a double-double with 23 points and 11 rebounds in the win over the Jaguars Tuesday night but played just 10 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble. Because opponents will be focusing on Tshiebwe, Calipari and his staff are creating ways to overcome the anticipating the double-team schemes.

“We’re still trying to figure out how to play him and post it,” Calipari said. “You notice we did some stuff different (against Southern). I’m not playing him like I played Anthony Davis because he’s not Anthony Davis or Karl Towns — he’s different than those guys. We’re doing some different things.”

Much like his star forward, Calipari is discovering new things from Wheeler, the team’s point guard.

“He can really do a good job of pulling up on elbows and making that shot … We learned a little bit — let’s incorporate that for him,” Calipari said. “It just takes time, and you can’t skip steps. I want to skip steps. But you don’t.”

Kentucky’s next step will be a true road game, the first of the year, against the Fighting Irish, who have played just two games at home this season.

“Now is big-boy time,” Tshiebwe said. “So, we go fight. Like Coach says, if you’re not willing to fight, then go be a cheerleader on the bench. We know now it’s tough to work hard, but it’s a good time to work hard, to go fight. We’re going to go and fight to get better. I know we’re going to be ready for this upcoming game.”

Gametracker: Kentucky at Notre Dame, 5:15 p.m. Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network.