Upstart Ohio to test mettle vs. No. 13 Kentucky

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The early season has gone smoothly for Ohio, but that's likely to change in a big way on Friday night when it squares off with No. 13 Kentucky in Lexington, Ky.

Ohio (3-0) has cruised to a trio of double-digit wins to start the season, but the Bobcats haven't faced anything like the Wildcats (2-1).

Third-year head coach Jeff Boals played for Ohio back in the mid-1990s, and saw his team lose in a trip to Rupp Arena back then. He knows the challenge awaiting his club.

"They're talented, they're athletic," Boals said. "It's a great opportunity for our school, for our program. You have to play really well to win, especially there. I learned that back in '95. You got to make shots, you got to get a good whistle and try to be in there at the end."

Kentucky quickly has rounded into form after losing its season opener to Duke in New York City. Since, the Wildcats have posted 40-point and 25-point victories over Robert Morris and Mount St. Mary's, respectively.

Head coach John Calipari has his usual assortment of young talent at his disposal, but aa pair of transfers have excelled early this season.

Oscar Tshiebwe has been a monster inside and is averaging 18.3 points and 18.7 rebounds per game. At the other end of the spectrum is 5-foot-9 guard Sahvir Wheeler, who is averaging 11.0 points and 10.0 assists.

Wheeler's 30 assists through three games are the most ever to start off a Wildcats career.

Tshiebwe had 20 rebounds in each of his first two games before "settling" for 16 in Tuesday's 80-55 victory over the Mountaineers.

"I love it ... if he was one or two away (from 20), I'd leave him in for another minute and let him get two rebounds because that's not selfish," Calipari said. "Rebounds are hard to get and that's not being selfish."

Ohio will need a selfless approach to try to minimize Tshiebwe's impact. The forward has an incredible 27 offensive rebounds in three games; the Bobcats have allowed a total of 19 offensive rebounds in three games.

"It's kind of ridiculous," Boals said. "The biggest thing with him will be trying to block him out as much as we can."

Ohio has averaged 12 made 3-pointers per game this season and brings a balanced offense with four starters averaging in double figures. Mark Sears leads the way with 19.3 points per game, while forwards Jason Carter (15.3 points) and Ben Vander Plas (15.0) both average 8.7 rebounds per contest.

The Bobcats have lost seven straight against Kentucky, with the most recent meeting coming in 2005. Ohio beat Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament in their first-ever meeting in 1964.

Calipari is 99-3 at UK against teams from outside the top seven basketball conferences -- the football Power Five plus the AAC and Big East. Ohio, the 2021 Mid-American Conference Tournament champion, sprung an upset over Virginia in the NCAA Tournament last spring.

--Field Level Media