The SEC Tournament semifinal matchup between Kentucky and Tennessee sounded like a closely-contested contest happening in the Elite Eight and the world was being treated to it in a conference tournament semifinal.
Unfortunately for the Cats, their streak of four straight tournament titles ended with an 82-78 defeat to the Vols, the second in three meetings this season.
Kentucky battle an offensive slump (missed 11 of their final 16 shots in the first half) and through two fouls for PJ Washington inside of the game’s first five minutes to trail by just two at the break. Reid Travis (eight points, four rebounds in the first half) canned a massive triple from way downtown from to bring the Volunteer lead to just 36-34 through the first 20 minutes of play.
John Calipari, your thoughts on that first half?
All of #BBN pic.twitter.com/N9fyPNnHcX— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) March 16, 2019
The Vols shot 53.8 percent from the field (14-of-26) overall and made seven (!) of their nine attempts from long range, but the Cats stayed in the hunt thanks to Travis, an 18-11 rebounding advantage (seven on the offensive glass), some good minutes from EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards, and a five-point, four-assist half from Ashton Hagans.
With 20 minutes remaining in their 1-seed hopes, the Cats grew up, getting contributions from across the board to roar in front 57-54 with just under 10 minutes to play off a breakaway Keldon Johnson tomahawk.
PJ Washington played like the all-american he should eventually be, scoring all but two of his 16 points in the second, including a two-handed hammer that sent the Big Blue Nation into a frenzy with the Cats leading 63-58, forcing a timeout.
Despite the officiating crew, led by of course, Doug Shows, taking over the contest with a putrid display of officiating, the Cats seized the lead and control, getting a three-point play from Johnson with 2:58 to play to put Kentucky up 72-64.
But, an 11-2 run featuring two triples from Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams to give the Vols the lead back at 75-74 with 1:27 left. Washington put back his own miss just outside of a minute to go to put the Cats up one again.
Williams grabbed a deep miss from Schofield and then Lamonte Turner hit the shot of the game to put the Vols up 78-76 with 31 seconds left. PJ Washington missed a couple chances at the rim and the Vols were able to ice the game away, sending Kentucky to a likely 2-seed on Selection Sunday.
It’s hard to pick just one guy because everybody contributed. Ashton Hagans had 12 of Kentucky’s 17 assists as a team. PJ Washington had 14 of his 16 points in the second half and played like the star he is. EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards gave the Cats 14 points off the bench. Reid Travis had 11 points and six rebounds in his first start since Feb. 19. That was a total team effort that fell just a bit short.
In the end, Hagans deserves the award. Not only was he great offensively, he also kept Jordan Bone from having a big game like he did in Knoxville. Bone finished with 18, but four of those points came on foul shots when Kentucky was forced to foul in the final minute, not to mention two technical free throws earlier in the half. His only other points in the second half were a two-point jumper, then two foul shots after Immanuel Quickley fouled him.
Hagans’ complete game was arguably the biggest reason Kentucky had a nice lead late. They Hagans put them in great position to advance to the SEC title game.
This is a tough one to stomach, but what Hagans did today is a big boost ahead of the NCAA Tournament.