The trilogy the nation has been waiting for is here.
The Kentucky Wildcats and Tennessee Volunteers will meet for a third time this season with a trip to the SEC Championship game and potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament on the line.
In the quarterfinals, Kentucky dominated Alabama en route to a 73-55 win. Tennessee outlasted Mississippi State in an 83-76 slugfest. The two teams will now meet again with major postseason implications.
This will be the second straight season the two schools meet in the SEC tournament. Last season, the Wildcats defeated the Vols in the tournament finals to clinch their fourth-straight conference tournament title.
In 2019, the schools split their regular season series.
At Rupp Arena, the Cats dominated in an 86-69 win guided by PJ Washington’s 23 points and a double-double from Tyler Herro.
The second battle on Rocky Top was the complete opposite. With Reid Travis out for the Wildcats, the Vols dominated on their home floor led by Jordan Bone’s 27 points.
With both teams at full strength and a neutral court setting, this game should be a close one that proves which team is better shaping entering the NCAA Tournament next week.
What to Watch for
Travis vs. Williams
This probably goes without saying, but containing Grant Williams is the key to Kentucky winning this game. The two-time SEC Player of the Year, who is also in the running for National Player of the Year awards, leads the Volunteers with 19 points and nearly eight rebounds per game to go with 3.3 assists.
While Williams scored 16 points and pulled down eight rebounds in the first matchup, he did a lot of damage in garbage time with the game out of hand. Reid Travis did a fantastic job of keeping Williams from going off, and that helped Kentucky dominate in Round 1.
But in Round 2, Travis was out with his knee injury, and Williams erupted for 24 point and seven boards. He also helped keep PJ Washington in foul trouble in the first half, with allowed Tennessee to take command and never look back.
Williams can take over a game if you let him, bur with Travis back in the lineup, the Vols star will have a tougher time executing his game plan.
Hagans vs. Bone
Kentucky fans have vivid memories of Jordan Bone torching Ashton Hagans in Knoxville, which was a big reason why the Wildcats were never able to keep pace. Bone finished with a career-high 27 points, He also didn’t have a single turnover as Hagans was a no-show on defense or offense.
Bone held Hagnas to just three assists while forcing him into two turnovers. That was a far cry from the first matchup when Hagans finished with nine points, seven assists, two steals and one turnover. Bone did score 19 with six assists but also committed three turnovers.
For Kentucky to win Saturday, Hagans has to play well and keep Bone from going off again.
Dominate the Boards
One of the biggest mismatches in the two matchups was Kentucky controlling the boards. They dominating the rebound margin 39-26 in the first matchup. Even without Travis, they still managed to out-rebound the Vols 39-36.
For the Wildcats to win Saturday, they have to keep Williams and Admiral Schofield off the boards and limit Tennessee to just one shot. The Vols can light up the scoreboard against anyone, so limiting their shot attempts will be critical to winning in Nashville.
While Travis will probably play more minutes than Friday, Kentucky will still rely on contributions from EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards, who combined for just five boards vs. Alabama. They’ll need to make a bigger impact in the paint for the Cats to take down the Vols.
Kentucky Wildcats vs. Tennessee Volunteers
Game Time: 3:21 pm EST on March 16, 2019
Location: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, TN
TV Channel: ESPN
Online Stream: You can stream the game online or on your mobile device using WatchESPN.
Radio: Tom Leach and Mike Pratt will have the UK radio network call on 630 AM and 98.1 FM in Lexington or online at UKAthletics.com.
Replay: Check local listings on the SEC Network and WatchESPN.
Odds: Kentucky is a 1.5-point favorite as of Saturday morning, but Massey Ratings projected Tennessee to be a one-point favorite. KenPom projected the Vols to be a one-point favorite as well.
Score Projections: Massey projects a 72-71 win for Tennessee and gives the Vols a 51-percent chance of winning. KenPom projects a 73-72 win for Tennessee and also gives them a 51-percent chance of winning.
Predictions: Kentucky is playing great with Reid Travis, but Tennessee is in the midst of what may turn out to be their best season ever. They also haven’t won an SEC Tournament title since 1979, and it feels like their due, especially after losing in gut-wrenching fashion to Kentucky last year. It’s going to be a down-to-the-wire slugfest, but with Nashville being like another Rupp Arena, the Cats gut one out in front of a sea of blue.
Final Score: Kentucky 73, Tennessee 72