LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky teammates and coaches told TyTy Washington Jr. a milestone was within reach, but the reality of breaking John Wall’s single-game school record for assists took some getting used to.
“I mean, John Wall, I watched him play, I watched a bunch of his highlights at Kentucky, I watched him in the NBA a lot,” the Wildcats freshman guard said of his All-Star predecessor after handing out 17 assists along with scoring 17 points in No. 16 Kentucky’s 92-77 victory over Georgia on Saturday night.
“For me to go out there and break the record, you know, is exciting because a lot of other great point guards came here as well. I could be the one who said, ’You know, I went to Kentucky, I set the record and hopefully it gets set for a minute and I hope nobody breaks it.”
Oscar Tshiebwe added a career-high 29 points and 17 rebounds as the Wildcats shot 63-percent after halftime to pull away from the Bulldogs.
Both teams looked to rebound from close losses, and intensity reflected in a back-and-forth first half featuring 10 lead changes.
Late baskets by Tshiebwe and Keion Brooks Jr. (14 points) helped the Wildcats (12-3, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) lead 40-37 at halftime before mounting several spurts, including a 13-4 run over four minutes that made it 73-56.
They made 22 of 35 in the second half and finished 40 of 70 (57-percent).
Kario Oquendo had 22 points, Aaron Cook 17 and Noah Baumann 14 for the Bulldogs (5-10, 0-2), which dropped their fourth consecutive game.
Tshiebwe bounced back from a season-low nine points at No. 21 LSU to have his 11th double-double by the break, before topping his previous scoring high of 25 points.
The junior forward seemed headed for a 20-20 outing before settling for helping Kentucky win the boards 31-25.
He finished 13 of 21 from the field.
The postgame spotlight, though, was focused on Washington.
Handling point guard duties for Kentucky in place of injured Sahvir Wheeler, Washington made 8 of 13 from the field and broke Wall’s single-game assists mark set against Hartford on Dec. 29, 2009 with 25 seconds remaining.
Davion Mintz made 5 of 7 3-pointers and 7 of 10 shots overall to finish with 19 points off the bench.
Washington’s achievement is all the more impressive considering cramps limited him in the second half of Kentucky’s 65-60 loss at No. 21 LSU on Tuesday night.
Not to mention, somewhat ironic Wheeler has thrived as the facilitator.
But with Wheeler sidelined with a neck injury sustained against LSU after running into a hard but legal screen early on, Washington was suddenly thrust into ballhandling duties against Georgia.
He simply tapped into another responsibility of playing guard for 36:50 and contributed five rebounds.
“Yeah, I was upset he had two turnovers,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said, jokingly. “He’s a playmaker and guard. Whether he’s bringing it up, or whether he’s away from the ball, he’s still a playmaking guard who can shoot. Was that a quiet 17 (points) he had?”
Georgia coach Tom Crean added, “I hope they weren’t surprised that we played well in the first half. I wasn’t and we had to prepare for this game with two different game plans. We had to prepare (if) Sahvir (Wheeler) was going to play and we back him up at the free throw line, and we had to prepare as if they have three shooters on the court.
“We ended up having to guard their guards and there were very few places where you could help from.”
FINDING HIS STROKE
Davion Mintz had 16 points at LSU, but also committed two late turnovers that led to baskets to seal the outcome.
He quickly put that game behind him by providing the offense Kentucky needed.
“It had to pay off. I have been working my tail off every day, every night, getting extra shots,” said Mintz, who was the Wildcats’ top scorer last season. “Just working tirelessly. It can’t rain forever — the sun has to come out eventually, so I was happy to see that.”
Wheeler, who played last season at Georgia, was dressed in street clothes and is being evaluated daily.
Calipari said his availability for Tuesday’s game at Vanderbilt depends on his practicing on Monday.
Georgia’s initial quick pace forced Kentucky to adjust, and knocking down shots helped the Bulldogs stay within a couple of possessions.
They simply fell behind after the break, being outscored 46-26 in the paint.
Washington ably filled in as a facilitator in Wheeler’s place, helping the Wildcats maintain some of their inside-outside game.
After starting a step slow, they soon got up to speed and worked the ball around for good looks that fell often.
Kentucky visits Vanderbilt on Tuesday night.