LAS VEGAS — Kentucky coach John Calipari gave a simple message to Sahvir Wheeler before the Wildcats’ showdown with North Carolina, both individually and in front of the team: “Lead us.”
Whether or not he produced offensively, Calipari pleaded with the team’s fourth-leading scorer who averages just 9.9 points per game.
Saturday, he led, on a stage he cherished.
Wheeler scored 26 points and No. 21 Kentucky beat North Carolina 98-69 on Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic.
“As players, not many people get the opportunity to play against a Duke, a Carolina, and later we play Kansas — all in one year,” Wheeler said. “I’m just super excited, super grateful to be here (and) have the opportunity to play against those types of programs. At the end of the day we just wanted to come here and win, and we did that.”
Wheeler, who shot a season-best 80% (12 of 15) from the floor, was one of four Wildcats to score in double figures in Kentucky’s first victory away from Rupp Arena.
Oscar Tshiebwe added 16 points and 12 rebounds for the Wildcats (8-2), while Kellan Grady had 18 points and Keion Brooks Jr. had 10.
“That’s by far the best we’ve played and we’re still trying to figure it out,” Calipari said. “Sahvir hasn’t been close to that, maybe the Duke game.”
The Tar Heels (8-3) had kept five straight opponents below 64 points. They were held to their lowest scoring output of the season.
Armando Bacot led North Carolina with 22 points and 10 rebounds, while RJ Davis had 10 points.
Ranked seventh in the country in 3-point percentage (40.9%) coming in, the Heels were a dismal 1 for 13 (7.7%) from long range.
The Wildcats disrupted North Carolina’s offensive sets to create turnovers, dominated the offensive glass and hit 54.2% (39 of 72) from the floor.
Kentucky limped into the game near the bottom of the rankings from 3-point range but buried 8 of 15 (53.3%) from beyond the arc — its best long-range shooting display this season.
The CBS Sports Classic was reshuffled days in advance due to COVID-19 to line up Kentucky against North Carolina for the second straight season.
Kentucky was previously scheduled to play Ohio State, but the game was canceled Thursday due to positive COVID-19 test results within the Buckeyes program. North Carolina was scheduled to play UCLA, but the Bruins have had ongoing COVID-19 issues.
North Carolina won last season’s matchup 75-63 in Cleveland, but the Wildcats had no trouble Saturday on Las Vegas Boulevard, winning for the sixth time in nine matchups overall in the BlueBlood series.
The Wildcats raced to their biggest lead of the first half, an 18-point advantage with 4:18 left behind a balanced scoring with nine players on the scoresheet.
“They hit us with a knockout punch in the beginning of the game and we never recovered,” Bacot said. “They did everything the coaches told us they would do, we just didn’t execute the game plan.”
Led by Wheeler, who had 14 points in the first half, the Wildcats were 15 of 37 (40.5%) from the floor, including 3 for 7 (42.9%) from 3-point range.
North Carolina, on the other hand, couldn’t find any sort of rhythm outside of Bacot, who scored 11 of the team’s first 13 points before sitting down with his second foul.
The Heels struggled during cold-shooting stretches of 0 for 7, 1 for 9 and 2 for 12.
Down 17 late in the half, Bacot scored six straight points to get North Carolina within 11.
The Tar Heels hit just 10 of 27 from the floor in the first 20 minutes, during which they didn’t get many second-chance opportunities with Kentucky dominating the paint by outrebounding North Carolina 26-14.
Kentucky took a 40-29 lead into halftime.
UNC, which dropped to 1-3 against ranked opponents this season, hosts Appalachian State in one last nonconference game on Tuesday.
UNC Wilmington 71, High Point 69
HIGH POINT — Jaylen Sims scored on a drive with two seconds left and Shykeim Phillips came off the bench to tally 17 points to lead UNC Wilmington to a 71-69 overtime win over High Point on Saturday.
John-Michael Wright hit a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left for High Point to tie the game.
Sims had 14 points and seven rebounds for UNC Wilmington (5-5). Mike Okauru added 13 points. Trazarien White had seven rebounds.
John-Michael Wright had 28 points for the Panthers (5-6). Zach Austin added 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Bryant Randleman had three blocks.
Phillips had a chance to win it at the end of regulation but missed a shot at the buzzer. Randleman had tied the game with nine seconds left and was fouled by Sims but missed the free throw.
Davidson 74, Radford 54
DAVIDSON — Foster Loyer had 24 points as Davidson stretched its winning streak to seven games, routing Radford 74-54 on Saturday.
Michael Jones had 15 points for Davidson (8-2). Hyunjung Lee added 14 points. Luka Brajkovic had 12 points.
The Wildcats forced a season-high 20 turnovers.
Shaquan Jules had 12 points and seven rebounds for the Highlanders (4-8), who have now lost four consecutive games. Bryan Hart added 12 points. Rashun Williams had seven rebounds.
UNC Asheville 79, East Tennessee State 64
ASHEVILLE — Drew Pember had a career-high 27 points as UNC Asheville topped East Tennessee State 79-64 on Saturday.
Tajion Jones had 17 points for UNC Asheville (7-5). Trent Stephney added 13 points. Coty Jude had 12 points.
Ty Brewer scored a season-high 23 points and had seven rebounds for the Buccaneers (7-5). Jordan King added 13 points. Ledarrius Brewer had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
David Sloan scored only 2 points despite entering the contest as the Buccaneers’ second leading scorer at 12 points per game. He shot 0 of 4 from behind the arc.
NC Central 86, Delaware State 53
NEWARK, N.J. — Randy Miller Jr. tied his season high with 23 points as North Carolina Central rolled past Delaware State 86-53 in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opener on Saturday.
Miller Jr. shot 6 for 9 on 3-pointers.
Kris Monroe had 16 points and seven rebounds for the Eagles (6-7). Dontavius King added 16 points. Justin Wright had six rebounds. Eric Boone had a career-high 13 assists.
North Carolina Central posted a season-high 25 assists.
Myles Carter had 18 points for the Hornets (2-9), who have lost seven straight games. Dominik Fragala added 12 points.
Howard 79, NC A&T 57
NEWARK, N.J. — Kyle Foster had 18 points and nine rebounds as Howard easily defeated North Carolina A&T 79-57 on Saturday.
Steve Settle III had 15 points for Howard (6-5). Tai Bibbs added 13 points. Elijah Hawkins had 7 points and 10 assists.
Collin Smith had 11 points and seven rebounds for the Aggies (4-9). Harry Morrice added 10 points. Demetric Horton had seven rebounds.
Marcus Watson, the Aggies’ leading scorer coming into the contest at 13 points per game, was held to only 5 points on 2-of-11 shooting.