Whether he starts or not, freshman Cason Wallace is a big-time player

Vicky Graff Photo

Nothing wrong with Kentucky going with a three-guard starting lineup of Sahvir Wheeler, CJ Fredrick and Antonio Reeves in its exhibition game Sunday night against Missouri Western.

With All-American center Oscar Tshiebwe out with a knee injury, coach John Calipari started forwards Daimion Collins and Jacob Toppin with the three guards in what turned out to be a 56-38 victory.

Even if it was only an exhibition game, I never thought I would see Calipari keep two top 10 recruits — both McDonald’s All-Americans — out of the starting lineup like he did with Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston.

However, once Wallace got in the game, the talented freshman guard showed why he’s going to play a lot whether he starts or not — and the idea of him bringing a spark off the bench does kind of appeal to me.

“We need Cason Wallaces on the floor,” Calipari said. “It’s a man’s game, it really is.”

Wallace was only 3-for-10 from the field, including 1-for-4 on 3-pointers, to score nine points. However, like he always has done, he filled the stat sheet.

He had a block almost as soon as he got in the game and finished with two blocks. He also showed his willingness and physicalness by grabbing a team-high seven rebounds. He also had two steals and two assists in 29 minutes.

Calipari praised his defense and rebounding, especially since he has been playing through a hand injury. But that’s the kind of toughness he has and he never indicated during the game that his hand was bothering him.

Former UK All-American Jack “Goose” Givens liked what Wallace did defensively.

“Wallace and (Sahvir) Wheeler are going to be a really good defensive combination,” Givens said on the UK Radio Network.

“Wallace is going to be a bear defensively,” UK Radio Network’s Tom Leach said after Wallace’s first steal.

SEC Network/ESPN college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg thought Wallace might have been a “little too indecisive” coming off screens but the exhibition game was a perfect learning experience for him.

“He’s really a mature young man. Really poised,” Greenberg said.

He can play point guard,  hit a 3-pointer, make a steal, block a shot or grab a rebound. His versatility and physical play will be a huge plus for UK’s backcourt and will give Calipari a lot of lineup combinations all season.

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