With Sahvir Wheeler making shot after shot, Kentucky Coach John Calipari stopped Wednesday’s practice.
“I looked at the team,” he said at a news conference Thursday before asking a rhetorical question. “You know what they say?”
After apologizing for what could be termed the locker room version of the word “defecate,’ Calipari quoted the players as saying to Wheeler, “Do that (stuff) in a game!”
Of course, Wheeler the shooter has been, uh, constipated in recent weeks. At Notre Dame on Saturday, he made none of his five shots. Two of the misses came from three-point range, which made him 1-for-13 from beyond the arc in the last seven games and 4-for-18 on the season (22.2-percent accuracy).
This led Notre Dame to leave Wheeler open for outside shots while concentrating on limiting his opportunities to drive to the basket.
For an opponent to invite you to go ahead and shoot does not breed confidence, UK players said.
“It kind of messes with your head a little bit,” freshman TyTy Washington said. “I can kind of see it in his face a little bit. . . . It just seems like he was not, like, mentally in it. After the game, you could just see it in him. He felt he let the team down.”
Washington suggested better shooting by Wheeler would have changed the game at Notre Dame dramatically.
“If he probably made two of them, it’d probably change everything,” he said. “They’d probably have to step up. And if they did, he’s the fastest kid in the country. He’s going around his man. He’s going to create.”
Calipari advised using an opponent’s indifference to you as a shooting threat as motivation.
“Use it as fuel,” the UK coach said. “You can’t come down and shoot every ball now. But you’re going to say, you’re playing me! . . .
“I have all the faith in the world in him. . . . At the end of the day, he should be one of the best point guards in the country. The numbers indicate it.”
Going into Thursday’s play, Wheeler ranked second in Division I in assists (7.7 per game). Yuri Collins of Saint Louis led the nation with an average of 7.9 assists.
When Kentucky plays Ohio State in Las Vegas on Saturday, Wheeler should not automatically expect to again be unguarded on the perimeter.
When asked if any scouting report would include reviewing video of the previous game, Ohio State Coach Chris Holtmann said, “Notre Dame plays a little bit different than we do on the defensive end. But you look at it.”
Holtmann cautioned against expecting a replay of what happened at Notre Dame.
“The one thing you know about that (is) you have a week off,” he said of UK’s schedule. “So, those guys are in a week of preparation. John and his staff are going to make adjustments.”
Holtmann also downplayed the significance of the stunning sight of Wheeler sitting on the bench in the final minutes of the possession-by-possession game at Notre Dame.
“Because I think that’s a game-to-game adjustment that people make . . . ,” the Ohio State coach said. “I’ve done that before. I would anticipate that we would see him late in the game.”
Meanwhile, Wheeler has been shooting well in practices this week, Calipari and UK players said.
Both Washington and Jacob Toppin said they spoke to Wheeler after the game at Notre Dame.
“I pretty much told him, you’re fine,” Washington said. “We know what you can bring to the team.
This whole week of practice, he’s been shooting the ball really well. This is the Sahvir we all know. Everybody says he can’t shoot, but he’s been working on it, like consistently.
Toppin said Wheeler told him that being left open at Notre Dame was challenging.
“He said it messed him up mentally a little bit,” Toppin said. “But I told him, you can’t focus on that. You need to focus on your consistency, and the work will show. It’s just a matter of when.”
When the Kentucky team returned from Notre Dame on Saturday night, Toppin and Wheeler went to the practice court to shoot.
They finished shooting sometime between midnight and 2 o’clock in the morning, Toppin said.
“After that we had a little talk about what we can do better,” Toppin said. “And how certain things like this shouldn’t affect us mentally. It’s a long season.”
No. 21 Kentucky vs. No. 15 Ohio State
What: CBS Sports Classic
Where: T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas
When: 5:15 pm EST
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: Kentucky 7-2, Ohio State 8-2
Series: Kentucky leads 11-10
Last meeting: Ohio State won 71-65 on Dec. 21, 2019, at the CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas.