Kentucky edges No. 13 Tennessee for SEC championship

Tanya Simon
March 12, 2018

The Cats got off to a fast start, hitting their first three shots for an 8-3 lead in the opening minutes.

Tennessee went on a four minute stretch without a bucket going 0-for-9 from the field. That was nuts. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander responds with another tough shot.

Those shots began a 14-2 United Kingdom run that built a 52-43 lead with 12:42 left.

MSU's offense was stifled all night by the Vols' stingy defense.

Schofield has been in a flow and rhythm lately as he came into the SEC Tournament averaging 24 ppg.in his final three while making 26-of-48 shots. But Kentucky made a big defensive stop up three with less than a minute to play and finished off the win at the free throw line. He had 13 points in the game's first 12:30 as the Vols jumped to a 29-19 lead while making 12 of their first 13 shots. Kentucky shot 47% while holding Tennessee to 28%.

Arkansas ranks 11th in steals allowed per game (4.7) while Tennessee ranks 80th (5.7). A Kevin Knox lay-up gave United Kingdom a 38-33 lead. Gilgeous-Alexander closes the contest with two more free throws.

The second-seeded Volunteers (24-7) led almost the entire game, but the Bulldogs (22-11) had an opportunity to take the lead in the final 10 seconds. Gilgeous-Alexander hit a floater, then scored on a three-point play off a fast-break drive. For instance, United Kingdom made seven of eight free throws in the final 57.6 seconds.

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Then, they got up from the lounge to depart for Knoxville to prepare for the Big Dance. United Kingdom was quickly in front 52-43. The Wildcats have had their issues on the glass in St. Louis, with Jarred Vanderbilt sidelined, so unless Wenyen Gabriel can knock down seven threes in seven tries or his teammates get red hot, it will require an "all hands on deck" effort in the paint against a characteristically physical Barnes team. United Kingdom was back in front 55-48.

The shots just kept falling for No. 13 Tennessee in the first half of their semifinal rout of Arkansas on Saturday.

P.J. Washington hit four straight free throws to give United Kingdom the lead again 59-57.

Schofield checked back into the game at 4:20 mark with game tied 62-62 and promptly missed a box out that Coach Rick Barnes cited as a turning point in the game. Kevin Knox missed a free throw but Gabriel was there for the rebound and putback and a 64-62 lead.

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. The potential lottery pick leads all scorers as Kentucky takes an 18-10 advantage to the bench with 11:07 on the clock. United Kingdom drew back in front by as many as 9 after Green converted on 2 free throws and Knox put in a lay up courtesy of a PJ Washington steal. Kentucky's lead was cut from 17 to 5 at halftime.

It was the fourth straight SEC Tournament championship - and maybe the most unexpected in the Calipari era.

The Razorbacks are set to make their second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and third in four years.

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