Five things you need to know from Kentucky’s 72-67 win over Florida
Five things you need to know from Kentucky’s 72-67 win over Florida at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center:
1. Toppin is now living up to preseason expectations. Kentucky senior forward Jacob Toppin had a double-double, 17 points and 10 rebounds, in the victory over Florida.
Quietly, the 6-foot-9, 205-pound product of Brooklyn, N.Y., has put together six straight games with double-figure points. In that stretch, Toppin has averaged 14.8 points and seven rebounds.
Back in the summer, when Toppin was being hyped as the “breakout candidate” on the 2022-23 Kentucky basketball team, this is the level of play people were hoping to see.
2. Wallace takes a star turn. Back in the UK starting lineup after sitting out the win at Mississippi with a knee contusion, Cason Wallace, the freshman point guard from Dallas, showed again why he might be Kentucky’s most important player.
In a game when UK star Oscar Tshiebwe was struggling mightily to score (see below), Wallace stepped up and filled the void. The 6-4, 193-pound Dallas product hit seven of 10 shots, his only three-point try and all five of his free throws en route to a team-high 20 points.
As Florida made a late drive to steal a victory in Rupp, Wallace came up huge, scoring seven of Kentucky’s final 11 points over the last 2:48 of the game. With UK clinging to a three-point lead, 70-67, Wallace calmly converted both ends of the bonus with 13 seconds left to seal the win.
3. Oscar’s night of struggles. Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe had the most difficult offensive game of his two-season UK career.
The 6-9, 260-pound senior missed 12 of the 14 field-goal attempts he tried. It went so bad offensively for Tshiebwe that he misfired on an alley-oop dunk attempt before fouling out with 1:38 left in the game.
Tshiebwe often struggles against defensive length, and 6-11 Florida center Colin Castleton appeared to bother the UK star on shot attempts near the goal.
That was a big change from last season, when Tshiebwe scored 27 points in both games against Castleton and Florida.
Even as Tshiebwe struggled mightily to put the ball in the basket, he still finished with 15 rebounds and three assists.
4. Calipari gains on Ray Mears. The victory over Florida was John Calipari’s 180th SEC victory as Kentucky head man. That leaves Calipari (180-57) three victories short of passing ex-Tennessee head man Ray Mears (182-76 from 1963 through 1977) for fifth on the all-time Southeastern Conference men’s basketball coaching victories list.
5. An NCAA Tournament résumé boost. When Saturday’s men’s college hoops action tipped off, Florida stood No. 41 in the NET rankings. That makes Kentucky’s win over the Gators in Rupp Arena a Quad 2 victory for the Wildcats.
That is a modest boost to what, so far, is a modest UK NCAA tourney profile — the Wildcats are 1-6 in Quad 1 games, 5-0 in Quad 2 contests, 4-0 in Quad 3 games and 6-1 in Quad 4 contests.
Probably the best thing about the Wildcats’ win over Florida is that it denied the Gators, another NCAA tourney bubble team, what would have been a Quad 1 victory.
The relative strength at the top of the SEC and Kentucky’s back-loaded schedule means the Wildcats still have a chance to build meaningful NCAA Tournament qualifications. With the NET rankings as they were Saturday morning, Kentucky’s final eight games will feature six chances for the Cats to register Quad 1 victories.
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