UK defeats Alabama to make it to SEC championship game


Kentucky freshman forward PJ Washington makes a basket during the game against Alabama in the SEC tournament semifinals on Saturday, March 10, 2018, in St. Louis, Missouri. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Abbie Long

On Saturday afternoon, Kentucky cruised past Alabama in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament, beating the Crimson Tide 86-63 to advance to its 42nd SEC championship game since 1933.

Both teams were without key players during this semifinal game. Alabama was without junior forward Donta Hall (concussion) while UK was without freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt (foot).

UK’s defense started out suffocating during the opening minutes in the first half, which was necessary to contain the Crimson Tide’s freshman star Collin Sexton.

By the 11:53 mark of the first half, all five of UK’s starters had scored, and the Crimson Tide had already committed five turnovers. However, the Cats weren’t taking advantage, only scoring six points off of eight total Alabama first-half turnovers.

Settling for shots from behind the three-point arch seemed to be the common theme during the majority of the first half. UK went four of nine from three, while Alabama went just two of eight.

The Cats’ defense held strong through the entirety of the first half, holding the Crimson Tide to just 19 points, and shooting only 30 percent from the field, as well as holding Sexton to just eight points during the half.

The score at halftime was 29-19 in favor of the Cats. Twenty-one of UK’s 29 points came from their starting players. Eight of Alabama’s 19 points came from Sexton.

The second half looked like it was going to belong to the Cats after UK extended its 10 point halftime lead to 17 by the 16:26 mark. Sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel was shooting lights-out from behind the three-point line, three of three.

After UK’s defense keeping Sexton quiet for the majority of the game, he started to come alive, in an attempt to spark the Crimson Tide offense by the 11:30 mark in the second half. But UK’s red hot offense wouldn’t give Sexton the chance to make much of difference in the score.

By the 5:15 mark Alabama closed UK’s lead to nine thanks to freshman guard John Petty’s 15 second-half points, in addition to Sexton’s 13. But Gabriel continued to knock down shots from behind the arch.

In the second half alone the Cats shot 81 percent from the field and 88.9 percent from the behind the three point line, which Gabriel handled nearly single-handedly.

Gabriel’s 23 points was a season high for the sophomore, and his seven made threes were a career high. Until this game Gabriel was averaging just six points per game.

UK will now have to wait to see who comes out on top in the second semifinal game that features Arkansas and Tennessee to see who the Cats’ opponent will be in tomorrow’s SEC championship game.