For the fourth straight year, your Kentucky Wildcats are SEC Tournament Champions.
In the back and forth matchup, the Cats did just enough to hang on against the Volunteers to win 77-72.
SEC Tournament MOP Shai Gilgeous Alexander led Kentucky with 29 points on 10-17 shooting, seven rebounds, three assists, and two steals. When the team needed a bucket, SGA almost always came in the clutch this afternoon.
Kevin Knox was second on the team with 18 points on 7-17 from the field and seven rebounds, including three big three-pointers on the day.
Wenyen Gabriel also put on a show, scoring 12 points on 4-6 shooting (2-4 from three), six rebounds, three steals, and two blocks. He started the day 1-1 from three, bringing his record 3-point streak up to eight-consecutive makes.
For the first 15 minutes of the game, the Kentucky Wildcats put on a show in St. Louis, leading Tennessee by 17 points with 4:31 left in the half. The Cats shot nearly 50-percent from both the field and from beyond the arc. Their defense also stepped up in a massive way, forcing the Vols to shoot just 9-32 from the field and 4-13 in the first half.
Unfortunately for the Cats, Admiral Schofield happened.
After scoring 13 straight points and 17 total in the first half, Schofield single-handedly willed the Volunteers back in the game, cutting the Kentucky lead to just five points at the half. In fact, it was a 13-3 run for Schofield by himself, absolutely dominating the Cats both inside and outside to end the half.
To kick off the second, the Vols continued the run they made late in the first to take a three-point lead, a ridiculous 20-point turnover from the Cats’ 17-point lead.
In most instances this season, Kentucky would allow momentum to get the best of them and allow the Volunteers to take over the rest of the way. In fact, in their first meeting in Knoxville earlier this year, the Cats held a nine-point lead in the first half, only to lose the game by 11.
Unfortunately for the Vols, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander happened.
Kentucky’s talented guard responded with a pretty floater and then an and-one bucket in transition to regain the Wildcat lead once again.
From there, the Cats pushed the lead back up to nine following two big buckets from Kevin Knox, one Quade Green layup, and three clutch free throws.
Once again, however, Tennessee fought back. They hit three three-pointers, a layup, and a free throw make pushed the Vols back out in front by a score of 57-55 with 8:08 remaining in the game.
PJ Washington responded with four consecutive makes from the free throw line to take the lead back (yes, you read that right), only to be tied back up on two Lamonte Turner free throws for Tennessee.
Tennessee’s Jordan Bowen drilled a jumper to push the Vols back in front, only to see Wenyen Gabriel hit an easy layup at the rim to regain the lead at 64-62.
From there, the Wildcats never looked back, holding onto the lead until they took home the SEC Championship Trophy.
Kentucky held Tennessee to just 37% shooting from the floor and from beyond the arc. The Cats shot 50% from the field and 44% from three.
Quade Green found his scoring stroke again, scoring 10 points on 3-5 shooting and two assists. In his first two SEC Tournament games, he scored just two points on a combined 1-9 shooting from the field.
Hamidou Diallo and Nick Richards combined for just one point in 30 total minutes. Sacha Killeya-Jones also scored just two points on a ridiculous putback dunk, though his impact was seen on the glass and on defense, grabbing three rebounds and swatting away two shots in 20 minutes.
For the second game in a row against Tennessee, PJ Washington failed to make a field goal attempt, going 0-2 on the day. He finished with five points (all free throws) and five rebounds for the Cats.
Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield injured his nose late in the second half, allowing the Cats to regain some momentum. He returned with a few minutes left in the game, but it wasn’t enough to make much of an impact. He led the Volunteers with 22 points, 10 rebounds, an assist, and a block.
According to Cat Scratches’ Corey Price, this is the first time in school history that Kentucky won an SEC Tournament title after experiencing a four-game losing streak during the regular season. The only other time Kentucky won following a three-game losing streak was all the way back in the 1938-39 season.
Price also says this is the most regular-season losses (10) for an SEC Tournament title team in school history with 10, as the previous record-holder (2001) only had nine losses.
The most important statistic of all?
SEC Tournament Titles:
The rest of the SEC combined: 27
Numbers never lie.
At one point this season, it looked like Kentucky was headed to the NIT.
Now, national analysts are talking about the Wildcats as a sneaky contender for the National Championship.
It’s almost like we should stop counting out John Calipari in March.