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Lexington, KY 2-4-23


The University of Kentucky Men’s Basketball program retired the late Mike Pratts jersey on Saturday night at Rupp Arena. Pratt started his Kentucky basketball career on the freshman team in 1966. Mike then started for the varsity team from 1967-1970 for the ‘Cats. Pratt averaged 16.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG, and 3.5 APG in 81 career games for Kentucky. Pratt would later rejoin the Kentucky basketball program in 2001 in the role of a color commentator for the radio broadcast, working alongside play-by-play announcer Tom Leach. Pratt was inducted into the Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009 and held his position on the radio broadcast until the end of last season. Mike Pratt was an all-around Kentucky legend throughout his career and life. Saturday night the program gave him and his family the ultimate and timeless honor of retiring his jersey to the rafters at Rupp Arena.

The ‘Cats started the week getting back in the win column versus Ole Miss in Oxford, winning 75-66. That win came after the ‘Cats hit a road bump in trying to build up their tournament resume with a loss at home to No. 9 Kansas last Saturday (77-68). Kentucky returned to Lexington for a matchup against the Florida Gators (13-9, 6-3 SEC). The Gators entered Lexington coming off their best win of the season, a 67-54 win over No. 2 Tennessee on Wednesday night. Both the ‘Cats and the Gators entered the game with a 6-3 record in SEC play, good for 5th place in the conference. The Gators tournament resume is highlighted by a 2-7 record in quad I matchups while checking in to the latest NET rankings at No. 41. For comparison, the ‘Cats have accumulated just a 1-6 record in quad I games to this point in the season and are ranked No. 31 in the NET. Colin Castleton (15.1 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.6 APG), Will Richard (10.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 41.2% 3PT)  and Kyle Lofton (8.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.1 APG) lead the Gators on their offensive attack this season. For the ‘Cats, Oscar Tshiebwe (16.6 PPG, 13.8 RPG), Antonio Reeves (17.3 PPG in last 8 games, 42% 3PT), Jacob Toppin (11.9 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.2 APG), and Cason Wallace (10.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.4 APG) lead the offensive charge. Wallace missed the Ole Miss game earlier this week with a knee contusion. Wheeler filled in nicely for Wallace in the game and posted 4-points, 4-rebounds, and 9 assists (1 TO) in 34-minutes on Tuesday night. Reeves led the ‘Cats on offense against Ole Miss with season-high 27-points. For the ‘Cats, they really needed to get Frederick going from beyond the arc and on offense. Since the Georgia game, Frederick has shot just 19% from three (5-26). Besides Wallace’s return and getting Frederick back on track, some other keys to the game for the ‘Cats included getting off to a fast start, the “Basketball Benny” lineup usage (Wallace/Frederick/Reeves/Toppin/Tshiebwe), and staying disciplined when defending the pick-and-roll (Tshiebwe).

The starting lineup featured Wallace, Frederick, Livingston, Toppin, and Tshiebwe as Reeves continues to come off the bench despite his stellar offensive play as of late.

Game Recap:

The scoring started with a nice pick-and-roll play for the ‘Cats where Frederick found Tshiebwe for a alley-oop slam. After two consecutive offensive rebounds from Tsheibwe, he found Frederick for a wide-open three that found the bottom of the net to push the ‘Cats to an early 5-0 lead. The Gators first points came from a Castleton layup. Tshiebwe collected 6 rebounds in the first 5-minutes of action (3 offensive). Toppin hit a three after passing up an open shot multiple times on the possession that pushed the ‘Cats lead to 8-2. The Gators responded with an and-one opportunity to narrow the lead to 8-5. Tsheibwe found Toppin underneath the basket for a massive slam to ignite the Rupp Arena crowd. The score was 10-7 ‘Cats at the under 12-minute media timeout. The ‘Cats began the game shooting 22% from the field while the Gators started just 18% from the field. Collins entered the game and provided a spark for the ‘Cats with a steal while providing some quality minutes while Tshiebwe rested. A Reeves floater pushed the ‘Cats lead to 17-9. Frederick went coast-to-coast after a steal for an and-one opportunity that stretched the ‘Cats lead to 19-9 at the under 8-miunte media timeout. Florida shot 13% from the field through the first 12-minutes of the game. Wallace drove for a transition layup that brought he score to 24-11 ‘Cats. Florida went on a quick 5-0 run that narrowed the Kentucky lead to 8 at 24-16 with 4:54 to play in the half. The Gators continued their scoring trend to the tune of a 11-2 run that brought the score to 26-22 ‘Cats with 2:30 left in the half. The ‘Cats woke up offensively with the introduction of a new lineup in the form of Wheeler/Frederick/Livingston/Toppin/Collins to close out the half on a 7-0 run that brought the score to 33-22 at the half. The ‘Cats did not trial at any point in the half. Toppin and Frederick led the way in scoring for the ‘Cats with 9-points apiece (Frederick 2-2 from 3PT). Wallace also mixed in 8 first half points. Tshiebwe and Toppin both contributed 7 rebounds each in the first half. The ‘Cats defense held the Gators to just 27% shooting in the first half (1-6 from 3PT) in arguably the ‘Cats best defensive half of the season. The ‘Cats converted 7 Florida turnovers into 10 points in the first half.

The first score of the half was a Castleton layup off an offensive rebound that brought the score to 33-24 Kentucky. Tshiebwe and Toppin each scored a layup for the ‘Cats for their first points of the half. The score at the under 16-minute media timeout was 37-30 Kentucky. Florida hit a three out of the timeout, but Reeves responded with a mid-range jumper that brought the score to 39-33 Kentucky. Toppin scored an easy layup off a screen curl play for the ‘Cats and Wheeler ran the floor and finished with his signature angled layup that brought the ‘Cats lead back to 10 at 43-33, but Florida responded with a three to narrow the lead to 43-36 with 13:41 to play. Wheeler continued his strong stretch in the second half with a transition layup to push the score to 45-36 ‘Cats. Frederick hit his third three of the game on the next trip down the floor for the ‘Cats. The score sat at 48-40 Kentucky with 10:38 to play. After a Toppin jumper, the ‘Cats rounded off a stretch where they went 8 for their last 10 shooting from the field throughout the middle of the second half. Livingston hit two free-throws then followed up with a steal and transition layup that pushed the score to 56-43 Kentucky. Wallace finished off an and-one opportunity with a free-throw that brought the ’Cats lead to 59-45 with 8:10 to play in the game. Wheeler missed a three but rebounded his own miss and drove straight down the lane for an easy layup that brought the score to 61-52 ‘Cats. The score at the under 4-minute media timeout was 61-54 Kentucky as Tshiebwe picked up his fourth foul of the game. The ’Cats and Gators swapped three-pointers that brought the score to 64-59. A Castleton and-one (off of Tshiebwe’s 5th and final foul) narrowed the Kentucky lead to 4 at 66-62 with 1:30 to play in the game. Coach Calipari opted to put Collins in to replace Tshiebwe for the final stretch. The Gators started to foul to lengthen the game with a minute to play. Collins went to the line for one and the bonus and hit both free-throws to push the score to 70-64 ‘Cats. Calipari subbed Collins out for the defensive possession to roll with a lineup of Wheeler/Wallace/Frederick/Livingston/Toppin. Florida hit a three to narrow the score to 70-67. Wallace went to the line with 13-seconds to play and hit both free-throws to stretch the ‘Cats lead to 72-67. A misfired Florida three ended the game and the ‘Cats went on to win by a final score of 72-67.

Florida finished the game shooting 42% from the field and 32% from beyond the arc (6-19 3PT). The ‘Cats shot 45% from the field and 45% from three-point range (5-11 3PT). Tshiebwe collected a game-high 15-rebounds as the ‘Cats outrebounded the Gators 38-30. Wallace was heavily utilized on offense throughout the game and in the second half (12 second half points) and finished the game with a team-high 20-points. Toppin had a strong game for the ‘Cats, posting a double-double with 17-points and 10-rebounds. Frederick finally got rolling offensively, scoring 12-points (3-6 3PT). Castleton led all scorers with 25-points for the Gators. Wheeler and Tshiebwe led the passing attack for Kentucky with 3-assists each. In an eye-opening stat, Daimion Collins led the ‘Cats in plus/minus total for the game with a +11 in just 5-minutes of action. On the other hand, Tshiebwe posted a team-low -5 in 34-minutes. Overall, any game that ends in a win for the ‘Cats should be considered a successful night. It never felt like the ‘Cats were in danger of falling to the Gators at home late Saturday night and they never trailed in the game at any point, despite the Gators narrowing the lead to 3 with under a minute to play. The ‘Cats move to 7-3 in SEC play on the season and moved into a tie with Auburn for fourth place in the conference.

The ’Cats (16-7, 7-3 SEC) look to keep their momentum rolling as they return to Rupp Arena for their next matchup as they take on the Arkansas Razorbacks (16-7, 5-5 SEC) on Tuesday, February 7. Tipoff is scheduled for 9:00 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN.

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