MVP Gilgeous-Alexander helps propel Cats to another SEC Tournament championship

Cats win SEC title. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky coach John Calipari wondered at halftime how his team would respond to the surge Tennessee had to end the first half.

Kentucky had a 27-12 lead over the Vols in the Southeastern Conference Tournament title game before Tennessee went on a 25-5 run to take a 41-38 lead. However, UK answered with its own 14-2 run and got some huge defensive plays late in the game to win 77-72.

It was the fourth straight SEC Tournament championship — and maybe the most unexpected in the Calipari era. The Cats were a No. 4 seed in the tournament and had a four-game losing streak late in the season.

However, a sensational 29-point performance by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the tournament MVP, was too much for the Vols to beat UK for a third time this season. Gilgeous-Alexander was 10-for-16 from the field and 7-for-7 at the foul line. He had seven rebounds and three assists.

“He is just silky smooth and at the end of games, he wants the ball. He doesn’t run and hide like some players do. He was sensational,” ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said.

Kevin Knox wasn’t bad, either. He had 18 points and seven rebounds. Wenyen Gabriel came off his sensational 23-point effort Saturday with 12 points and six rebounds despite fouling out late in the game. Quade Green had 10 points and two assists and just one turnover in 28 minutes.

Don’t discount the play of Sacha Killeya-Jones who helped offset the absence of Jarred Vanderbilt due to an injury in all three games. He had two points but it came on a monster putback follow dunk when he just parted the Tennessee defense.

He also had three rebounds and two huge blocked shots in his 20 minutes. More importantly, he did not have a turnover.

“Sacha was like a difference maker in the game again. So proud of him. He had to wait his turn. Guys in front of him were playing great and he had to wait, but he did,” Calipari said.

Kentucky continued its intense effort that started with the win over Georgia Friday when it held the Bulldogs to 28 percent shooting. Alabama managed to hit just 38 percent from the field in the semifinals against UK. Tennessee, despite a hot streak midway of the game, finished 37 percent from the field.

“I wondered at halftime what might happen in the NCAA Tournament and somebody makes a run and then see what we do,” Calipari said. “Tennessee did and we really responded. Really proud of the guys.”

NCAA Tournament pairings come out later tonight and suddenly UK, which is likely to be a No. 5 seed, looks like a tough out for any team in the tournament whether it has Jarred Vanderbilt back or not.

Kentucky made 12 3-point shots against Alabama. It came back with seven more Sunday and also went 20-for-24 at the foul line. The Cats managed just nine assists but that’s due in large part to the way Gilgeous-Alexander can break down a defense and score on his own.

“We all know what we can do moving forward,” Green said. “We came here to win. Now let’s just see what happens going forward.”

Tennessee should be no worse than a No. 3 seed in the NCAA, so playing and winning this type of game should give UK added momentum in the NCAA.

“When you win a game like this, it pays off in the NCAA,” Vitale said. “I told you a few weeks ago not to count Kentucky out when they had some struggles. Calipari just gets his guys to play in March and they did just that here.”

17 comments

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  1. What an outstanding win from an outstanding team!!!! Go Big Blue, enough said!!

  2. Being a young team, UK needed a game like this one. This will show them how they need to play the rest of the year. Good shot selection, good shooting, above average defense. Still would like to have seen a better job on the defensive boards, but heck, Tennessee is so big inside. UK is tall, but Tenn is big and strong. No one on UK is going to move those boys, but I don’t think UK will face another team any thicker or stronger than Tenn. Tenn is a well coached team so these young UK players know what type of ball is ahead of them. I thought they played with more passion in this tournament than we saw through most of the season, more talking, more working together.

  3. I knew this team could do this, but many of you wouldn’t believe me..LOL..I had planned on catfish for dinner tonight but guess will have to thaw out a little crow. You gotta love that first 15 mins. of play, but I and am sure just a few others, felt the game was gone when UT came back and went up. We had the courage and the toughness to come back and stay back, and I wasn’t sure we could do that, but the magic of Cal and his march preparedness came thru once again.

    1. “IT by 10” was your expert comment genius. Now you’re saying you knew they could do it ? Why should anyone believe anything you scribble ?

      1. PK…once again if you would sober up and open your eyes I did an LOL…now tell me that Richards wasn’t a wasted scholly.

        1. You are a jerk leave Richard alone. I

  4. Mike, Richard did good things with the bad and I’ll take it.. Leave the kid alone in time he will be a different player I see a lot of up side in him.

    1. What good things has Richard done? He shouldn’t be starting and the whole world knows that and the team as well. He has not improved at all so apparently isn’t coachable. He bobbles most balls that he touches. He takes minutes from SKJ and only starts because of Cal’s stubborness. I don’t think he would be starting on any other team in SEC.

  5. This was a mixed bag of SGA having the game of his life and Williams not wanting to be there. They have been better at playing together on both ends and finally showed some toughness. Lets see what happens with the selection show tonight. We are playing with house money now.

  6. I just want to know why it is that Mike can make a comment, even said he had to eat crow, then someone has to jump on him because they don’t agree or just want to start an argument. This happens on every page on here. Then when Mike fires back, some of you want to cry it’s not fair. I don’t understand that. I haven’t seen this kind of behavior since I taught middle school. Like I used to tell the kids, don’t start it if you don’t want to get hit back, and if you do, suck it up. You don’t have to agree with anyone on here and there is absolutely nothing that can be said on here by anyone that is going to make one bit of difference with this team. No one on here is sitting on the bench or playing on the floor. Opinions are just that and they don’t mean a thing.

    1. You make a point Old Fan. Everyone has a right to their opinion and to express that opinion. You can disagree with someone without personally attacking that person…or at least it should work that way. The same goes for “counter attacking”. If you try to take away anyone’s right to say what’s on their mind, you are laying the argument to have that right taken away from yourself. Stop the bickering before this site is closed due to these personal attacks.

  7. What good things has Richard done? He shouldn’t be starting and the whole world knows that and the team as well. He has not improved at all so apparently isn’t coachable. He bobbles most balls that he touches. He takes minutes from SKJ and only starts because of Cal’s stubborness. I don’t think he would be starting on any other team in SEC.

  8. I think Richards is a long term commit. I think in year 3 he will be a tremendous player. He has some skill, but has only been playing ball for a few years. It would not surprise me if he turns out to be one of the better players in this group. He does have some down side right now, but I think his future in bright. I think in 3 years, you will be happy we have him.

  9. Richards has shown he is capable of playing, i.e. his 25 point game in the pre-conference season. Cal micro manages his players way too much…he calls it assigning roles. You would think any player would want to play on a team where they are encouraged to develop their entire game instead of being told no, you only do this. That may be why Cal is missing out on the top players now. Look at how Isaac Humphries was held back and then he is named the Rookie of the Year in the Australian NBA. This is the biggest argument for the best players to find a team where they will still be the man like they were in high school like Young did at Oklahoma and Porter tried to do at Missouri. Richards might be wise to transfer, sit out a year, and play at a school that will feature him instead of just “role play” him. The same could be said for SKJ.

  10. I’ve been very pessimistic about this team, but after UK’s SEC tournament performance, I’m stoked.

  11. Old fan, I give mike a hard time because he attacks the players in a personal way. Break down the game, call out mistakes , and venting your frustration is one thing but attacking 18 and 19 year old players and calling them a waste to me is just plain wrong. So yes when I think Mike crosses a line I voice that opinion. The guys on here who are usually negative even when we win(you do that also) make my head spin. As a fan of 44 years(not 50 like you) I choose to look for the positive and understand that no season is the same. I don’t pine for the “good old days” because they mean something different to me. I accept and enjoy theses teams and young men for who they are and for what Cal is trying to do. I rarely like what Mike says but would defend his right to say it . And if he wants to come back at me after I call him out, I am ok with that too. But he rarely does! !

    1. You have your opinion and your way of supporting the team. I have mine. Yours is no better than mine and mine is no better than yours. I don’t attack anyone for having a different opinion. Everyone has a right to their opinion and their voice. There are times when everyone crosses the line, but you’re better off to let them make themselves look bad. If you take up for the player that you feel has been put down, but do it without the name calling, you just reinforce your point. When you add name calling, most people don’t see the point you are making.
      Yes, there are times I am negative about certain aspects of the teams play even when they win. Just because you win, doesn’t mean you are good. I never played for a coach that didn’t find something we needed to do better and I am very glad for that. Honesty to yourself is something that is learned and is extremely valuable in life.

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