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UK Basketball: 5 more thoughts and postgame notes from SEC Championship win over Tennessee

The Cats win a thriller thanks to Shai’s big game and UK’s backup bigs stepping up.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament Championship-Tennessee vs Kentucky Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky faced off with Tennessee Sunday looking to win the 4th consecutive and 31st overall SEC Tournament crown and avoid losing to the Vols three times in one year since 1979.

The Cats were without Jarred Vanderbilt, but they once again had guys able to step up and win the SEC Tournament by a final score of 77-72.

Out of the gate, Kentucky was shooting the ball extremely well and getting any shot they wanted. At the same time, they were playing good defense and making it tough for Tennessee to get open looks, and with under 12 minutes left, they had an 18-10 lead.

The Cats started to get away from what was working towards the end of the half, and at the under four timeout, they had a comfortable 33-18 lead. However, with a Tennessee team that is this talented, you can’t take your foot off the pedal and must keep executing.

From that point, Tennessee ended the half on a 13-3 run to cut into the lead and make it a game going into halftime. Kentucky didn’t have the same rhythm as the half ended but still took a 36-31 lead to the locker room.

After Tennessee got back into the game, tn was obvious that the second half was going to be a war. Each team battled throughout the half and it was fun to watch. At the under 16 timeout, the Cats were holding on to a slim 42-41 lead.

Kentucky would jump out to a 52-43 lead, but then here came the Vols climbing back into it, and with eight minutes left to play Tennessee took a 57-55 lead over the Cats, who would go on to outscore the Vols 22-15 the rest of the way.

It shows just how much this young team has grown as they never flinched and kept fighting and made the smart plays down the stretch to take the lead and close it out winning their 31st SEC Tournament title.

Thoughts on the game

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander MVP

Throughout the season, Shai has been the guy that stepped up and shocked the nation with his performances. Today and this tournament was no different. He finished with 29 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists as he led the Cats to victory. He averaged 21 points, and 7 assists throughout the tournament and was name the SEC Tournament MVP.

Wenyen Gabriel was huge again

After going 7/7 from three Gabriel backed it up by scoring 12 points on 4/6 shooting and grabbed 6 rebounds. But a lot of what he did didn’t show up in the stat sheet as he made some big hustle plays and played really well on the defensive end giving the Cats some help down low without Vanderbilt. If Gabriel can keep playing like this, UK can make it through the South Region of Death and into the Final Four.

Kevin Knox had another good performance

Knox poured in 18 points and grabbed 7 rebounds. He made some big shots in the first half to set the tone and get the team in a rhythm early. He was ready to go from the tip and it helped get the momentum with this team and fueled the big run at the start. Knox finally having a good game against Tennessee was a big reason why the Cats finally were able to beat them.

Sacha Killeya-Jones made big plays

With Vanderbilt out, the Cats needed Sacha to step up and in back to back games he did just that. He made some big plays against Bama and in the championship game he played good defense and made two huge blocks one in the last minute that was big in getting the Cats the win. He’s going to have to keep playing like this with UK possibly facing Arizona and superstar big man Deandre Ayton in the Round of 32.

Kentucky cashed in at the foul line

In a game like this, the free throw line can be the difference maker in the game. It was very important for the Cats to take advantage of their opportunities and that’s exactly what they did. They went 20/24 (83.3%) and made them down the stretch when they were putting the game on ice.

It was a very impressive win and a really good win for the Cats as now we get ready for the NCAA Tournament next week.

Now, here’s a look at the postgame notes and milestones, courtesy of UK Athletics:

Team Records and Series Notes

· Kentucky is 24-10 overall. Tennessee is 25-8 overall.

· UK leads the Tennessee series, 154-71.

· UK is 12-4 vs. Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, including 5-3 in championship games.

· Next for Kentucky: After the game, the Wildcats fly home to learn their NCAA Tournament destination. UK will be making its 57th NCAA Tournament appearance, extending the NCAA record for most tournament appearances.

In the SEC Tournament

· Kentucky won its 31st Southeastern Conference Tournament championship, fourth in a row from 2015-18.

o This is the third time that UK has won at least four consecutive SEC Tournament championships – UK won seven in a row from 1944-50 and four straight from 1992-95.

· UK is 32-10 in SEC Tournament finals. (Note: the 1988 championship was later vacated, accounting for the difference between tournament championships and finals victories.)

· Kentucky has an all-time record of 133-25 in the SEC Tournament, and has won 12 in a row.

· Coach John Calipari is 22-3 in the SEC Tournament and has been in the finals eight times during his nine years, winning six.

All-Tournament Team

· Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky, Most Valuable Player. In the three games, he averaged 21 points, five rebounds and 6.7 assists.

· Wenyen Gabriel, Kentucky. He averaged 13.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots during the three games.

· Kevin Knox, Kentucky. He averaged 14.7 points and six rebounds during the tournament.

· Admiral Schofield, Tennessee

· Collin Sexton, Alabama

In the First Half

· Kentucky’s starting lineup featured Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, PJ Washington and Nick Richards for the 14th time this season. UK is 9-5 with this lineup.

· Knox hit a 3-pointer on UK’s first possession, extending UK’s streak of 1,047 consecutive games with a 3-pointer.

· With Tennessee missing eight of its first nine shots, and UK getting eight early points from Gilgeous-Alexander and five from Knox, UK jumped out to a 13-5 lead.

· Midway through the half, UK tacked on a 7-0 run to make the lead 27-12.

· UK took its largest lead of the half at 17 points, 33-16, with 4:31 left of the clock.

· At that point, Tennessee warmed to the task, as 13 points from Admiral Schofield sparked a 15-3 Tennessee run to end the half.

· UK went to the locker room ahead 36-31. UK is now 17-3 this season when leading at halftime.

o Gilgeous-Alexander led UK with 14 points in the first half, fourth time in last five games he was in double figures by halftime.

In the Second Half

· Tennessee stayed hot, scoring on its first five possessions to take a 41-38 lead, forcing a UK timeout at 16:34. Spanning both halves, Tennessee had a 25-5 run.

· Kentucky then steadied and regained the lead with a 14-2 run, moving back in front 52-43.

· Moments later, Tennessee came back with a 9-0 spurt and the Volunteers held a 57-55 lead.

· Trailing 62-61, Kentucky got a foul shot from Knox, then two huge offensive rebound baskets – a Wenyen Gabriel putback after Knox missed the second free throw, then Sacha Killeya-Jones dunked a missed 3-pointer by Gabriel. Gilgeous-Alexander hit two foul shots, capping a 7-0 run and 68-62 lead as the Wildcats never trailed again.

· Clinging to a 68-67 lead, Gilgeous-Alexander hit a jumper at the foul line with 57 seconds left. After a defensive stop, Quade Green rolled in two foul shots for a 72-67 margin.

· At 72-69, Gilgeous-Alexander made two foul shots, Washington hit one, and Gilgeous-Alexander added two more as UK won 77-72.

Team Notes

· Kentucky limited Tennessee to 37.1 percent from the field.

o UK is now 167-14 under Calipari when keeping the opponent under 40 percent from the field.

· Kentucky shot 50 percent from the field today. UK is 11-0 this season when the Wildcats make at least half their shots.

· UK made 7 of 16 on 3-pointers today and hit 24 of 51 for the tournament, 47.1 percent.

· UK had 10 turnovers today. UK is 13-0 this season when committing 11 or fewer miscues.

· UK led by as many as 17 points today. The Wildcats are 231-5 under Calipari when leading by at least 10 points during a game.

Player Notes

· Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the SEC Tournament Most Valuable Player. He poured in 29 points, one shy of his career high, with a career-high-tying seven rebounds, plus three assists.

· It was his fifth 20-point game of the season.

· In the three games of the tourney, he averaged 21 points, five rebounds and 6.7 assists.

· He is averaging 18.4 points and seven assists over the last seven games.

· Wenyen Gabriel had 12 points and six rebounds today. It is his first back-to-back double-figure scoring games of the season.

o He was named to the SEC All-Tournament Team, averaging 13.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots during the three games.

· Kevin Knox had 18 points, his 10th straight double-figure performance. He also tied for the team lead with seven rebounds. He averaged 14.7 points and six rebounds during the tournament.

· Quade Green had an efficient 10 points, making 3-of-5 field goals and all four free throws.

Coach John Calipari

· Calipari has a 718-203 all-time on-court record.

· Calipari is now 273-63 at Kentucky.

· Calipari is 15-9 vs. Tennessee in his career.