LEXINGTON — On a night the late Mike Pratt’s jersey was raised into the Rupp Arena rafters, his beloved Kentucky Wildcats honored him with a 72-67 victory over the rival Florida Gators.
UK honored the legendary former player and broadcaster during halftime, raising his No. 22 next to the banner of his former teammate and close friend Dan Issel. Issel was among the several former Wildcats in attendance, joining a guest list that also included Larry Stamper, Jim Andrews, Jimmy Dan Conner, Bob Guyette, Kevin Grevey, Darren Feldhaus, Erik Daniels, Matt Heissenbuttel and Pratt’s family.
“Mike Pratt, number raised. How many points did they have at halftime? 22, Mike’s number. Who made the last points of the game? No. 22 [Cason Wallace]. You don’t think Mike was up there tipping balls away? Think about that,” UK head coach John Calipari said of Pratt. “One of the nicest people, kind heart. We had his kids and his grandkids and his brother and his wife in the locker room after. I’m just happy for him. He’s been an unbelievable supporter of mine.
“I love the guy and I miss him. I’m happy that this was done. I told Mitch [Barnhart] it’s a great move and well deserved — top 30 in scoring, rebounding and assists, and he only played three years because freshmen didn’t play when he played. So it was good.”
On the floor, the Wildcats improved to 16-7 overall with the win and 7-3 in SEC play. UK has now won six of its last seven and extended its conference winning streak to six. Florida dropped to 13-10 overall, 6-4 in conference play and saw a three-game conference winning streak snap with the loss.
The victory for Kentucky also continued a streak of UK wins during jersey retirement days as the Wildcats have never lost in a game in which it has raised a jersey into the rafters.
“This was a heck of a win for us,” Calipari said. “You’re seeing teams all over the country get beat ... it’s because that happens. You play a good schedule. You’re gonna lose some games. You play a team that’s trying to figure themselves out. It takes some time.”
Kentucky was led in scoring by Wallace, who scored 20 points. He was joined in double figures by by Jacob Toppin who scored 17 points and added 10 rebounds for a double-double.
CJ Fredrick, who played without a cast on his shooting hand for the first time since Jan. 10, broke a recent cold stretch by scoring 12 points as he shot 3-for-6 from three-point range.
“I thought CJ was outstanding,” Calipari said. “The shots that he made, it created gaps.”
“It felt good, but I mean I’ve shot so many basketballs in my career, and I put the work in every day. Obviously, it was good. It’s fun to make shots, but there was no extra emphasis on making shots tonight,” Fredrick added. “Every time I shoot it, I’m trying to make it, but that’s just my mindset going in every game.”
Oscar Tshiebwe grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds for the Wildcats but was held to just four points as he shot a woeful 2-for-14 from the field, committed three turnovers and fouled out in the game’s final minutes.
“Just be as aggressive as possible,” Florida forward Colin Castleton said of limiting Tshiebwe. “Limit the close catches to the basket. Being able to get around the rim. He’s super effective around the rim. He’s a strong guy and he’s just one of the most active players in the country. So being able to just use my length was the biggest thing that they tried to tell me.”
Florida was led by Castleton, who scored a game-high 25 points. He was joined in double figures by Kyle Lofton and Will Richard, who each scored 13.
Kentucky jumped out to a 24-11 lead with 6:01 left in the first half, but the Gators rallied back to finish the half on an 11-2 run to cut the UK lead to four with 2:30 until halftime. The Wildcats would punch back as they closed out the opening half on a 7-0 run thanks to a pair of close-range baskets from Toppin and a three from Fredrick to take a 33-22 lead into halftime.
Florida again chipped away at the Kentucky lead, pulling back within four early in the second half, but Kentucky answered by pushing its lead to a game-high 14 at 59-45 with 8:00 to play. The Gators still would not go away quietly, cutting the Wildcat lead in half at 61-54 after a layup from Myreon Jones with 4:31 left and then pulled within five with 3:36 to go after a pair of Castleton free throws.
A Jones three cut the Kentucky lead to 70-67 with 38 seconds left. With 17 seconds remaining, Jones attempted but missed the game-tying three, forcing Florida to foul. Wallace drained a pair of free throws, icing the game for the Cats.
UK plays again Tuesday when it hosts Arkansas at Rupp Arena.
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