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Cason Wallace prepared to battle through injury: "If I can play, I'm going to play"

Zack Geogheganby:Zack Geoghegan03/11/23

ZGeogheganKSR

After not playing in Kentucky’s final regular-season outing — a stunning road win over Arkansas on March 4 — Cason Wallace‘s status entering the SEC Tournament was still very much up in the air. He didn’t practice to start the week but returned on Thursday in hopes of being ready to roll for Friday’s night quarterfinals matchup with Vanderbilt.

He wasn’t officially announced as cleared until head coach John Calipari made the decision known to the public during his pregame radio show on Friday night, just hours before tipoff.

Wallace initially went down with a turned ankle nine days ago, when the same Vanderbilt team stunned Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Senior Night. While the Wildcats were able to grind out an important win over Arkansas a few days later, it was still obvious that UK wouldn’t stand nearly as good a chance in the postseason with him watching from the bench.

Which is why getting him back on the floor in the SEC Tournament felt like such a win for the ‘Cats, even if it didn’t actually feel like it once the final buzzer sounded. Wallace played all 20 first-half minutes in the 80-73 loss to Vanderbilt and nearly did the same in the second half. He collected 37 total minutes but did have to sit for a brief moment. The 6-foot-4 guard limped off the floor down the stretch after appearing to reinjure his already hampered ankle, although he did quickly return.

“It’s doing better, just getting better every day,” Wallace said postgame of his injury. He finished with seven points, four rebounds, five assists, and three steals with just a single turnover but only shot 3-10 from the floor and 1-6 from long range.

If there’s one positive takeaway from Kentucky’s early trip back to Lexington from Nashville, it’s that the entire roster will have a couple more days of rest ahead of the NCAA Tournament. Instead of potentially playing three games in three days, Wallace (along with CJ Fredrick, Sahvir Wheeler, and apparently Jacob Toppin) can now rest up in hopes of getting as close to full strength as possible for one final run.

This isn’t the first time this season Wallace has dealt with an injury either. He sat out Kentucky’s 75-66 win over Ole Miss back on Jan. 31 with a leg injury and has been dealing with back spams throughout the majority of the season. Despite various ailments, the five-star freshman has found ways to tough it out and play more often than not. It doesn’t sound like that mindset will change heading into the NCAA Tournament, either.

If I can play, I’m going to play,” Wallace said, according to The Athletic’s Kyle Tucker.

With Fredrick’s rib clearly still bothering him and Wheeler’s status a cloud of confusion, Kentucky is going to need everything it can get out of Wallace in the NCAA Tournament. If he has to play at less than 100 percent, it’ll still be the best option for Calipari’s backcourt. There was a very good reason why backup point guard Adou Thiero played just one minute against Vanderbilt — even an injured version of Cason Wallace gives Kentucky the best chance to win.

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2024-06-15