The Kentucky Wildcats returned to Rupp Arena this evening as they welcomed the Florida Gators to town. In another must-win game for the Cats, they defeated the Gators by a final score of 72-67.
If you watched the first 10 minutes of tonight's game, it was a good encore to the Tennessee-Auburn game earlier in the day, as both teams struggled mightily on offense. After establishing some rhythm, this game turned into the close matchup most expected it to be.
Luckily for Kentucky, they secured the momentum heading into the locker room and took a 33-22 lead.
Coming out of the half, the Cats busted open the lead early, but then hit a stall offensively once more. With Florida battling back late, it took some solid late-game execution, big Cason Wallace shots, and key free throws by Wallace and Daimion Collins for Kentucky to fend off the Gators for the win.
Next up is a date with the Arkansas Razorbacks, as Eric Musselman and his squad come to Lexington on Tuesday night.
Now let's take a look at four things to know from tonight's win against the Gators.
Mike Pratt Honored
No question what the highlight of tonight was. In what was an awesome moment inside Rupp Arena, it was great to see UK great Mike Pratt get his jersey in the rafters.
Here's to a UK legend both on and off the court.
Tune in as Mike Pratt’s jersey is retired at Rupp Arena https://t.co/0clwVrvuht— Kentucky Men’s Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 5, 2023
Welcome to the rafters “22”— Dylan Ballard (@DylanBallard_UK) February 5, 2023
No one is more deserving…
What a great ceremony. pic.twitter.com/1nHmKSzBtc
A very beautiful sight indeed.
Jacob Toppin Shines Again
It’s no secret that Jacob Toppin struggled to start SEC play, but the turnaround he has made since then is the bigger storyline.
Toppin continued that trend tonight, as he helped propel the Cats to a huge win over the visiting Gators by scoring 17 points on 8/16 shooting with 10 rebounds.
As this Kentucky team continues to take steps forward with postseason play approaching, it is obvious that this team is going to need solid production on both ends of the court from Toppin. It now looks like that is something we can count on each time on the court.
Potential bonus: Toppin playing well could make the NCAA Tournament committee be forgiving of that home loss to South Carolina since Toppin didn’t play.
Tshiebwe Struggles Mightily
Once again, the height narrative comes into play with Oscar Tshiebwe.
After a solid outing against Ole Miss earlier in the week, Colin Castleton and this Florida defense shut down the reigning NPOY.
In one of the worst games of his entire college career, Tshiebwe fouled out with four points on 2/14 shooting, 15 rebounds, three assists, and three turnovers.
Frankly, it’s a minor miracle Kentucky won tonight with Big O playing so poorly. Although he still dominated on the boards, this was the kind of performance that will sink Kentucky against better teams.
For the Wildcats to be at their full potential, they need Tshiebwe to dominate, and that means putting up points to free up the perimeter.
CJ Fredrick finally sees some shots fall
It’s been a rough week for CJ Fredrick when it comes to shooting the ball. After not scoring against Ole Miss, and only scoring two points against Kansas, he finally got to see the ball go through the net.
Tonight was the first game Fredrick has played without a splint on his shooting hand since dislocating his finger. He responded by going 3/6 from deep and 4/10 overall tonight and looked like the knockdown shooter Kentucky was expecting of him this season. Perhaps Fredrick being healthy enough to shed the splint will be a turning point in what’s been an erratic season, to say the least.
It has still been a minute since both Reeves and Fredrick have been knocking down shots in the same game, but hopefully this inches that game closer and closer.
Now, let’s celebrate!