LEXINGTON – January 25, 2022 – Keith Taylor
Jacob Toppin isn’t looking ahead to Kansas.
The Kentucky forward and the rest of his teammates are focused on Tuesday night’s contest against Mississippi State ahead of a showdown against the No. 5 Jayhawks Saturday in Lawrence, Kansas.
“I don’t know why (anyone) would consider (Mississippi State) a trap game, they’re a very good team,” Toppin said Monday. “I don’t know their record, but I know they have been winning games. They’re very physical and I don’t think it’s a trap game at all. I think we’ve got to go out there and fight for 40 minutes. That’s what we’re going to do.”
Kentucky associate coach Orlando Antigua agreed with Toppin on the Wildcats possibly overlooking the Bulldogs.
“It’s something that we’re not doing,” he said. “I’ve got to say that this team is a really, really good team. Mississippi State is a well-coached team. Coach (Ben) Howland is a Final Four coach who’s done it, and he’s done an incredible job at Mississippi State.”
The Wildcats (15-4, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) are coming off an 80-71 loss at red-hot Auburn. The Tigers (18-1, 7-0) ascended to the top of the Associated Press Top-25 poll Monday for the first time in school history. Despite Auburn’s current status as the No. 1 team in the nation, Toppin thinks the Wildcats would have fared better if not for an injury to second-leading scorer TyTy Washington in the first half.
“I’m not the type to make excuses, but when TyTy got hurt, it changed the whole speed of the game,” he said. “We were up, and I believe if TyTy would have not got hurt, we would have won that game, 100 percent. Things happen and we have to move forward from it.”
Despite the absence of Washington, Toppin said the Wildcats displayed toughness, and others noticed as Kentucky remained No. 12 in the AP poll this week.
“We definitely fought for 40 minutes and a lot of things didn’t go our way, but we kept fighting,” he said. “It shows the type of team we are. We’re going to fight no matter what comes our way. We weren’t happy with the outcome but we’ve got to learn from it, get better and just move on.”
Washington’s status is reportedly day-to-day and Sahvir Wheeler is expected to be in the lineup Tuesday night. Despite some concerns in the backcourt, Antigua doesn’t expect newcomer Shaedon Sharpe to enter the lineup anytime soon.
“It’s hard to expect for him to be caught up where guys have been practicing and working since the summer,” he said. “But he’s doing great. He’s a quick learner and quick study and working really hard, but there’s a lot that’s going on when a kid gets to campus midseason in terms of just getting acclimated to classes, the class schedule, the dorm life, the lifting, the conditioning.
“Then you start throwing everything else and all the details that go into it, it’s one of the things he’s been surprised by; how much information and detail everything is. But he’s getting acclimated. It takes time.”
Toppin added that Sharpe has been limited on the practice floor since he arrived on campus and added it’s hard to get on the court in such a short period of time.
“(It’s) very difficult but he’s coming along,” Toppin said. “He’s been in practices and we haven’t gone full 5-on-5 with him yet, but he’s getting there. He’s learning the plays and he’s definitely coming along very well and we’ll go from there and see what happens.”
Gametracker: Mississippi State at Kentucky, 9 p.m., Tuesday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.