Cats getting healthy, inching closer to a full roster

Published 3:39 pm Tuesday, December 12, 2023

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Kentucky is inching closer to a full roster of healthy players.

The recent return of Aaron Bradshaw gives the Wildcats the presence they need in the post and Kentucky coach John Calipari could get an extra boost sooner than later when another 7-footer, Ugonna Unyenso, is cleared to play. Calipari hinted he hopes to have Onyenso available when Kentucky takes on North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic Saturday in Atlanta.

Bradshaw scored a career-high 17 points and completed a double-double with 11 rebounds in the win over the Quakers. Bradshaw is one of six Kentucky players averaging double figures this season. Veteran Antonio Reeves leads the Wildcats in scoring with 18 points per game, followed by Rob Dillingham (14.1 ppg), Tre Mitchell (13.2 ppg), Reed Sheppard (13 ppg), DJ Wagner (12.6 ppg) and Bradshaw with 10 ppg.

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Penn coach Steve Donahue wasn’t surprised by Bradshaw’s performance against his squad.

“I’ve seen Aaron play in high school and I always admired his skill level,” Donahue said. “Then you look at his size and to me, that’s a difference maker for them. When you watch them on film, they’re shooting threes and they’re playing, but they have someone out there to protect the rim and is that skilled. I think it takes their program to another level.”

While the scoring has been evenly distributed, Calipari would like to see his team eliminate mistakes.

“We still, I have some guys that have to make the absolute hardest play they can try to make, and they make it one out of four, 25 percent of the time something good happens. The other three are turnovers. And breakouts for the other team. Hopefully, when we hit February, that won’t be the case.”

Eclipsing Cliff

When Cliff Ellis stepped down as coach at Coastal Carolina last week, Calipari became the winningest active coach with 839 career victories. Following the win over the Quakers, Calipari now has 394 wins as coach of the Wildcats.

“I saw his Clemson team play Connecticut, it might have been in the NCAA Tournament,” Calipari said. “Cliff sings, he plays piano, he makes you laugh. He’ll call me. The year we were struggling he said, ‘You got three haircuts… Three more haircuts and the season’s over, you’re fine.’ That’s what he said to me and we bust out laughing.”

Calipari said Ellis, 78, plans to send him a list he compiled at age 42.

“He told me last night he wrote something down when he was 42 years old about 14 things he wanted to do. ‘I’m sending it to you, wait until you see what I was writing when I was 42. I’m 78.’ … I invited him to Kentucky. ‘Why don’t you come up?’ I said, ‘If you like to coach my team and get a couple more wins you’re welcome to do it.’ He said he might. He’s a good man. He’s a good man.”

Floor leader

D.J. Wagner has impressed Calipari with his ability to lead at the point-guard position. Wagner made his return to the lineup last Saturday after missing the team’s surprising 80-73 setback to UNC-Wilmington the previous week. Wagner turned his ankle in the team’s win over Miami in the ACC/SEC Challenge.

“He’s not afraid to lose,” Calipari said of Wagner. “We’re not thinking about losing. We’ve got a will to win. He leads our team. He talks like he’s a senior. He gathers them and he builds their confidence because of what he says to them. And now, he’s getting more consistent in doing all of the other stuff: Defensively (against Penn) he did a heck of a job.”

Sheppard started in Wagner’s absence against the Seahawks.

Climbing higher

Kentucky moved up to No. 14 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll released Monday, while North Carolina, the Wildcats’ next opponent remained idle at No. 9.