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Wildcats expect to be at full strength next week as Tshiebwe, Wheeler and Collins set to return

by Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Kentucky hasn’t had its full roster intact so far this season but that will change once Oscar Tshiebwe, Sahvir Wheeler and Daimion Collins return to the lineup.

The three players are expected back on the court within the next week and will give the Wildcats a boost, especially within the front court. Tshiebwe and Wheeler have been recovering from knee issues, while a death in the family took Collins back to his home in Texas during the past week.

Jacob Toppin had the first double-double of his college career with 15 points and 11 rebounds in Kentucky’s opener with Howard on Monday. (Photo by Jeff Houchins, Kentucky Today)

In the absence of the three veterans, No. 4 Kentucky rolled to a 95-63 win over Howard in its season opener Monday night. Casen Wallace just missed a triple-double running the team at the point and finished with 15 rebounds, nine assists and eight rebounds in his collegiate debut.

“That’s not normal,” Kentucky senior guard CJ Fredrick said. “There are not many people in the country doing that, let alone as a freshman. He brings such a different dimension to our team. What he’s doing at his age and at his first college game is special.”

Jacob Toppin had a double-double and snagged 11 rebounds in Tshiebwe’s absence in the post, which is what Kentucky coach John Calipari expects from Toppin and his post players.

“You know what I said (to him after the game)?” he said. “‘When you rebound like that and defend the way you defended, you can miss shots. He was 5 for 12. He missed a bunch of shots … well I’ll leave you in. As long as you rebound and defend.’”

Although the backups fared well in the opener and two exhibition victories, Calipari will be narrowing his rotation.

“We’re going to have a couple guys fighting for minutes because you won’t believe this, (but) you know Oscar’s playing. So that means those 28 to 30 minutes are coming from somewhere,” he said. “Daimion comes back, let’s just, even if it’s 20, 25 minutes, it’s coming from somewhere.”

The Kentucky coach has no intentions of installing the platoon system again like he did during the 2014-15 season, which Calipari said, hindered recruiting.

“For two years I couldn’t recruit anybody,” he said. “You want to go there and play 20 minutes? I’m going to start you and you’re going to take all the shots and you have to go there. And I said, I did that one time in my career. And I had no choice. I had 10 guys.”

Calipari doesn’t foresee even playing up to 10 players this year but is demanding a high level of competition in practice.

“One of the things I’m trying to do is I’m holding guys to a high standard because they’re going to be fighting for minutes,” he said.

What will the Kentucky coach be looking for?

“Most of it will come down to, are you breaking down defensively? Are you not rebounding balls?” he said. “Then I got to play someone else. And there’s two or three of you. So, whoever’s the best defender, the best rebounder, a guy that’s out there and we click.

“The greatest thing about this game, and I believe the next game, is everybody’s getting minutes to show what they are.”

Gametracker: Duquesne at Kentucky, 7 p.m., Friday. TV/Radio: SECN, UK Radio Network.

Keith Taylor is the sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com and via Twitter at keithtaylor21

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