Freshman Wallace carries Cats past Florida
Published 3:34 pm Monday, February 6, 2023
BY KEITH TAYLOR
It was all double deuces for Kentucky on Saturday night.
Kentucky honored one of the greatest players to wear No. 22, the late Mike Pratt. The current bearer of that number helped lead the Wildcats to a 72-67 win over Florida.
Freshman guard Cason Wallace scored 20 points, including 10 of the last 14 points, as Kentucky notched its sixth consecutive Southeastern Conference victory.
Wallace didn’t play because of a knee contusion in the Wildcats’ 75-66 win at Mississippi Tuesday night but returned to the lineup and made crucial plays down the stretch after the Gators made a late run after trailing by 14 in the second half. Florida (13-10, 6-4) narrowed the margin to five at 61-56 with 3:36 left, but Wallace drained a clutch 3-pointer, made another jumper in the lane and swished a pair of free throws in the final minute to seal the deal for the hosts.
“I started getting more comfortable down the stretch and my teammates believed in me and I made the shots. … Honestly I didn’t know how big the (3-pointer) was until after the game. That just shows how comfortable I was and how my teammates believed in every shot I took.”
The Wildcats (16-7, 7-3 SEC) limited Florida to 22 points in the first half, honored Pratt at halftime, while No. 22 made the last two points of the contest to conclude the memorable night.
“You don’t think Mike was up there tipping balls away? Think about that,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “(He was) one of the nicest people with a kind heart. I loved the guy and I miss him. … I’m happy that this was done (and) it was well-deserved. It was good.”
Calipari praised the performance of Wallace, but added Sahvir Wheeler had a hand in the heroics produced by his improving freshman guard.
“Without (Sahvir), we don’t win this game,” Calipari said. “Aside from those layups we really needed to create a gap, he let Cason go do his thing. He told me, let Cason handle it, I’ll just be out on the wing. That’s a teammate. Cason making those jumpers and that three (and those) free throws. We did what we had to (to win).”
The sacrifice by Wheeler paid off in big dividends for the Wildcats. The baskets by Wallace, especially the 3-pointer late in the contest, were among a few shots Florida coach Todd Golden said his squad will have to live with for the remainder of the season.
“He beat the (scouting report) in terms of what I instructed our guys to do,” Golden said. “I thought for most part our guys executed our defensive coverage, but he stepped up and made some big shots. … I thought Cason played a really good game tonight.”
The outing by Wallace came on a night when leading scorer and rebounder Oscar Tshiebwe scored just four points on 2-for-14 shooting and fouled out with 1:38 remaining. Still, Tshiebwe finished with 15 rebounds and was all smiles after the contest.
“He missed a bunch (of shots), but he was one of the happiest guys in that locker room,” Calipari said.
Kentucky officially retired Pratt’s jersey into the Rafters of Rupp at halftime and his jersey hangs next to former teammate Dan Issel.
Kentucky broadcaster Tom Leach was the master of ceremonies and was joined by Pratt’s widow Macia and his family. Calipari appeared via video. Marcia called the moment, “the greatest honor of his life.”
“Michael Pratt, you made it my friend, you made it,” Issel told the crowd.