The Kentucky Wildcats won their 28th SEC Tournament title today with a 78-53 methodical beating of the Arkansas Razorbacks. The Hogs were able to hang in for a while, but right around the 8-minute mark, as happens so often with Kentucky this season, the Wildcats began to pull away and had the game statistically out of reach with over 4 minutes left in the contest.
This was a very physical contest, way too physical for my taste, but we aren't going back to 1975 anytime soon when it comes to calling fouls, so we'll just have to enjoy it as it is. Still, seeing one Wildcat bleeding from a cut on his nose, one holding a sore shoulder and another limping around with a hip injury gives me pause. I get that people want to beat Kentucky, but is it too much to ask for them not to try to beat us bloody? This is still basketball, right?
Don't get me wrong, Arkansas got their share of punishment. Karl-Anthony Towns has taken a genuine liking to delivering some body blows in the post, a knack that while appropriate for this game, still got him in foul trouble. He's no good to us disqualified, so perhaps he might want to dial that back just a notch.
Arkansas played very hard, to their credit, and they hung on a long time. The reality is, though, that effort will only get you so far against Kentucky and no further. If the Wildcats are engaged and playing focused basketball, you aren't going to out-hustle or out-effort them. Even a B+ effort from players as skilled as Kentucky's is more than a match for the A+ game of most teams. Nice try, Arkansas. Good luck in the tournament.
1.28 points/possession is almost as good as the Wildcats put up against Auburn, a much weaker team. I'm happy with it.
49% from 2 is pretty good. I think the Wildcats still miss way too many layups, but Arkansas is not totally unfortunate defending the rim, so you have to give them credit.
3-point shooting was splendid. Back-to-back games with 7 made threes and 50%+ shooting from the arc. Tough to beat an average team shooting like that, and it's well-nigh impossible to beat UK in that situation.
Defensive rebounding was not good at 61%. That's just not good enough for this group, and Arkansas is not a good offensive rebounding squad.
On the other hand, offensive rebounding was lights-out at 52%. I wish we could put the two together for once. If there is anything I miss about last year, it is the rebounding.
78% free throw shooting is great, especially when you get 27 tries. Kentucky is really taking care of business at the line, a sign of high focus and confidence.
64% assists. What a team!
21% turnovers is something we haven't seen in a while. Caliprari often calls for "a few more turnovers," and what he means by that is that playing faster often leads to more turnovers, and he wants the team to play as fast as possible. The thing is, 21% turnovers is way too many. 15% is really the sweet spot, but I think this team can play fast and keep turnovers under 20%. Too many of UK's turnovers were due to fundamental errors, like not keeping the ball high.
This game was way too physical. I know I've already said that, but something really needs to be done about all this contact.
No team can run with Kentucky. I state that as a fact, but we may get a chance to test that theory if we run into Notre Dame in the tournament.
The more Arkansas tried to challenge, the harder the Wildcats played. That's exactly what we need to see.
Willie Cauley-Stein wins the game ball, and also the SEC Tournament MVP. His newfound willingness to score as well as defend just makes Kentucky a better team, and his double-double (15-10) is just what we need from him.
Aaron Harrison gets an honorable mention. He shot the ball poorly from 2 but great from three, and had 6 assists and only one turnover. He and his brother kind of switched roles today.
Trey Lyles had a very good game, making all 5 free throws and 2-4 from the field. He also collected 7 big rebounds and has been a big reason why Kentucky is performing at such a high level.
Karl-Anthony Towns once again struggled with fouls, which is becoming an ongoing issue. KAT has to do a better job of finishing in the post without fouling. But he still shot a high percentage, made his free throws and got some blocks, and made some very nice passes in the post.
Andrew Harrison is a confident player, and it looks great on him. He got in some foul difficulty, but still made all three of his 3-point attempts, had 2 assists and zero turnovers. Andrew is playing by far the best basketball of his career, and he's largely doing it from the wing rather than the point.
Tyler Ulis logged 34 minutes, the most of anybody. He had 6 assists against only 1 turnover, and shot the ball very well.
Devin Booker didn't shoot great, and really didn't play that great, logging only 17 minutes. He was tentative today and did not play with as much abandon has he has earlier in the year. He's also become a touch gunshy, which is not good for a shooter.
I didn't think Dakari Johnson played bad until I saw he had only one rebound. He did some good things out there, but he's regressed a little bit in his sophomore season. Maybe he'll play better during the tournament.
Marcus Lee played very well, I thought, especially defensively. He also made 2 of 3 shots, and got 3 rebounds in only 7 minutes. I think he could use a few more minutes than that.
Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins and E.J. Floreal all checked into the game, but they logged less than one minute.
Tying it all up
This was a good way to end the SEC season, and nobody can complain about an undefeated basketball team. This was a solid performance, and if nothing else, just showed how much better Kentucky is this season than the rest of the SEC. When the #2 team can't get closer than 15 points in two tries, you know that the Wildcats are pretty darn good.
This season has gone better than I would've imagined with the exception of the loss of Alex Poythress, and honestly, I'd sacrifice a few victories just to get him back, he really made us better. The other side of that coin is that his absence has really allowed Trey Lyles to blossom, and that is not a bad thing at all. Still, I miss him badly at a moment like this.
So now it's on to the Big Dance, and it should be a challenging tournament. I think this team is ready.