The Kentucky Wildcats kicked it into another gear Saturday, as they dominated the Tide with an 86-63 victory.
From the tip, it was clear that the officials (i.e. Doug Shows) were going to dictate the flow of the game and make it hard to get into any form of rhythm. Both teams struggled to get it going offensively, and at the first media timeout, Kentucky trailed 7-6.
With Kevin Knox struggling to get going in the half, the team stepped up to compensate for his absence and had a narrow 18-14 lead with just under eight minutes left. Kentucky finally started clicking on offense and went into the break with a 29-19 lead.
One thing that was very impressive was the defense that the Cats were playing. They focused on trying to stop Collin Sexton who has been on a tear in this tournament and did a good job holding him to just 8 points. The Cats also made Bama turn the ball of forcing them to give it up eight times.
Out of the break, Kentucky looked as good as they have all season. They were able to get open shots and were knocking them down. At the under 12 timeout, the Cats had built a 50-37 lead.
We had some guys that needed to step up, and they did in a big way and made huge plays for us in this one. The Cats hit 71 with around four minutes left and went on to get a big win and advance to Sunday looking to win their fourth consecutive SEC Tournament championship.
Thoughts on the game
Wenyen Gabriel was on fire
Gabriel was one of the guys to step up in a big way. He finished with 23 points and was 7/7 from the three-point line. That is the most threes in a game without a miss in school history, a record previously held by Ramel Bradley who went 5/5 in a game. This is the perfect time for him to hit his stride and his confidence is through the roof.
Sacha Killeya-Jones has earned some PT
With Vanderbilt being out due to injury, Sacha was going to get more opportunities to prove himself, and he is taking advantage of it. Sacha finished with 6 points on 3/3 shooting and grabbed five rebounds. But the area he was most impressive was on defense. He defended the pick and roll very well and made shots difficult for Bama to get off. He has earned some more playing time going forward.
PJ Washington was yet again a beast
PJ backed up his good performance yesterday with yet another good performance. He had 14 points on 4/7 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds. He also had one of the more impressive dunks of the season while drawing the foul to give the Cats a big momentum boost.
Kentucky shot lights out
The first half the team struggled to score, but in the second it was a different story as they shot 84% in the half. Kentucky shot 27/42 (64.3%) for the game but more impressive they were 12/18 (66.7%) from behind the three-point line. Hopefully, they will carry that hot shooting into tomorrow and into the NCAA Tournament.
This was a very impressive performance by the Cats and should have the fan base feeling good about our chances going forward. The Cats will now play Sunday at 1 pm in the SEC Tournament championship game. Another tough test for the Cats regardless of who their opponent is.
Here are the postgame notes and milestones, courtesy of UK Athletics:
Team Records and Series Notes
· Kentucky is 23-10 overall. Alabama is 19-15 overall.
· UK leads the series, 112-37, and has won 10 in a row vs. the Crimson Tide.
· UK is 16-2 vs. Alabama in the SEC Tournament, including 7-0 in the semifinals.
o This was the third year in a row that the teams have played in the SEC Tournament. UK defeated Alabama 85-59 in the 2016 quarterfinals and 79-74 in the 2017 semifinals.
· Next for the Wildcats: UK plays the winner of Arkansas/Tennessee on Sunday for the SEC Tournament championship. Game time is 1 p.m. EDT (noon CDT in St. Louis). ESPN will televise.
In the First Half
· Kentucky’s starting lineup featured Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, PJ Washington and Nick Richards for the 13th time this season. UK is 8-5 with this lineup.
· Diallo swished a 3-pointer with 12:53 on the clock, extending UK’s streak of 1,046 consecutive games with a 3-pointer.
· The teams went back and forth for most of the half with eight lead changes.
· With UK leading 18-16, the Wildcats went on a sudden 7-0 spurt to open a 25-16 advantage.
· UK went to halftime ahead 29-19. UK is now 16-3 this season when leading at halftime.
In the Second Half
· Kentucky made its first five shots, including a pair of 3-pointers, plus four straight free throws, to open the half with a 16-7 spurt. That made the lead 45-26, the largest lead of the game.
· Trailing 61-44, Alabama went on a 12-4 run to get within 65-56.
· Wenyen Gabriel replied with his seventh 3-pointer of the game (without a miss, by the way), followed by two Knox foul shots and a Washington free throw to make it 71-56. Alabama never seriously threatened from that point.
· For the second consecutive game, UK had its best defensive half of the season. Today, the Wildcats held Alabama to 19 points in the first half. On Friday, UK held Georgia to 23 points in the first half.
· Kentucky limited Alabama to 37.9 percent from the field.
o UK is now 166-14 under Calipari when keeping the opponent under 40 percent from the field.
· Kentucky shot 64.3 percent from the field, the second-highest percentage of the season and best vs. an SEC opponent.
o It is the second-highest field-goal percentage vs. an SEC team under Coach Calipari.
· UK made 12 of 18 on 3-pointers, 66.7 percent.
o 66.7 percent ties the school record for 3-point percentage in a game (minimum 10 made). UK also made 66.7 percent vs. Wake Forest in the 1993 NCAA Tournament, 16 of 24.
o The 12 threes are a season high.
· UK had 20 assists and 10 turnovers today. The 20 assists are most against an SEC opponent this season.
o UK is 13-1 this season when the Wildcats have more assists than turnovers.
o UK is 12-0 this season when committing 11 or fewer miscues.
· UK led by as many as 23 points today. The Wildcats are 230-5 under Calipari when leading by at least 10 points during a game.
· UK is 152-6 in the Calipari era when keeping the opponent to 63 or fewer points.
· Kentucky shot 84.2 percent in the second half Saturday. It’s the best mark in a half in the Calipari era.
In the SEC Tournament
· Kentucky has an all-time record of 132-25 in the SEC Tournament, and has won 11 in a row, including the last three championships.
· UK is 42-2 in SEC Tournament semifinal games.
· Coach Calipari is 21-3 in the SEC Tournament.
Looking Ahead to Sunday
· Kentucky plays the winner of the Tennessee/Arkansas game Sunday at 1 p.m. EDT (noon CDT).
· UK is 31-10 in championship games (the Wildcats had to vacate the 1988 SEC Tournament championship) and has won three straight title tilts.
· UK leads the Tennessee series, 153-71, but Tennessee won both meetings this season.
· On Jan. 6 in Knoxville, Tennessee won 76-65. On Feb. 6 in Lexington, Tennessee won 61-59.
· UK is 11-4 vs. Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, including 4-3 in championship games.
· UK leads the Arkansas series, 31-10, and has won six in a row.
· On Feb. 20 in Fayetteville, Kentucky won 87-72.
· UK is 9-1 vs. Arkansas in the SEC Tournament, including 4-0 in championship games.
· Wenyen Gabriel tied his career high with 23 points (also vs. LSU on Feb. 7, 2017). He made a career-high seven 3-pointers on seven attempts.
· The 7-of-7 performance set UK school records and SEC Tournament records for most 3-pointers made without a miss.
· Previously, UK had four players make 5 of 5 in a game, Ramel Bradley, Keith Bogans, Tayshaun Prince and Jamal Mashburn.
· Previously, four players had made 5-of-5 in an SEC Tournament game, Joe Harvell of Ole Miss, Craig Brown of Florida, G.G. Smith of Georgia and Taurean Green of Florida.
· Gabriel also tied his career high for blocked shots with three rejections.
· Gabriel’s 87.5 field-goal percentage is tied for the second-best mark in an SEC Tournament game in school history (minimum six attempts). The last Wildcat to do it was Alex Poythress, who was also 7 for 8 vs. Alabama on March 11, 2016.
· Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 19 points, including 9 of 12 at the free throw line and had a game-high eight assists.
· He is averaging 16.7 points and 9.2 assists over the last six games.
· PJ Washington continued his steady play, assembling 14 points and a game-high eight rebounds.
· He has scored double figures and grabbed at least five rebounds in each of the last eight games.
· Kevin Knox was stifled with foul trouble but still managed 11 points, his 10th straight double-figure performance.
· He’s the first Wildcat this season to score in double figures in 10 straight games. De’Aaron Fox ended last year with a 12-game streak.
· Quade Green had a career-best eight assists, adding two points and a rebound.
· Sacha Killeya-Jones had one of his best games of the season, corralling six points and five rebounds.
Coach John Calipari
· Calipari has a 717-203 all-time on-court record.
· Calipari is now 272-63 at Kentucky.
· Calipari is 16-3 vs. Alabama in his career.