Kentucky falls in Tennessee rubber match


Kentucky freshman guard Ashton Hagans controls the ball on offense during the SEC tournament semifinals game against Tennessee on Saturday, March 16, 2019, at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

For the first time in the last five years, Kentucky will not be the SEC Tournament Champion. Tennessee took the rubber match, 82-78.

For all the marbles in the series, a spot in the SEC Championship and a potential one-seed, both teams came out firing. There wasn’t even an empty possession until over two minutes had passed, when the teams were tied 7-7.

The first half was a story of hot shooting from Tennessee. The Vols shot 7-9 from deep, drilling the Cats from deep while PJ Washington sat on the bench with two fouls for 14 minutes.

Admiral Schofield was on fire more than any other, hitting all three of his attempts from deep in the first half. He led all scorers at halftime with 13 points after a monster performance in their last game.

Despite both the Vols’ shooting and the lack of Washington on the court, the Cats only trailed by two at halftime after a three from Reid Travis to end the half.

The second half saw the Vols cool off, but their rebounding ramp up. The rebounding battle ended 32-29 in favor of the Wildcacts. The Cats had led that battle by seven at halftime.

In the second half, the teams got more physical and the referees had more work to do. After only ten combined fouls in the first half, the teams had surpassed that mark well before the halfway point of the second. It proved more detrimental to Tennessee, as big man Kyle Alexander fouled out with nearly 11 minutes left to play in the game.

After not playing for nearly all of the first half, Washington reasserted himself in the second as a force. He had three dunks on approximately four defenders, and each was a bigger momentum swing than the last.

The tight nature of this game meant a short run was all either team needed to take control. The Cats went on an 11-2 run to take the then-largest lead of the game at seven before the Volunteers were able to neutralize it.

The Vols had their own in response, however. Travis, who had stuffed Grant Williams in Lexington, fouled out with over two minutes left to play. The Volunteers went on a 6-0 run to retake the lead with 1:27 to go, and Rocky Top blasted throughout Bridgestone Arena.

As Washington continued his takeover, tipping in his own miss, the pressure was on the Volunteers when they called timeout with 38.5 seconds after an offensive rebound.

The Vols answered with a straight-on three from Lamonte Turner to send the Tennessee faithful into a frenzy, and the Vols to a two-point lead. PJ Washington missed two tries right at the basket, leading to a rebound for the Vols.