During SEC tournament, UK shows fight to win any game


The Kentucky men’s basketball team celebrates after the game against Tennessee in the SEC tournament championship on Sunday, March 11, 2018, in St. Louis, Missouri. Kentucky defeated Tennessee 77-72. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Exactly one month plus a day ago, Kentucky lost its third straight game for the first time in the John Calipari-era. They Cats would go on to lose their next game to open up talks about a possible NIT bid.

Fast-forward to March 11 and the Cats are SEC Tournament champions after defeating Tennessee for the first time all season. With the win, Kentucky became the first No. 4 seed to win the SEC Tournament in history.

“We need as many of these kinds of things as we can going into next weekend,” John Calipari said after the game. “So proud of them. Really proud of them.”

One of “these kind of things” is the SEC Tournament, which UK won for the fourth season in a row. Not many picked Kentucky to win, especially after Jarred Vanderbilt got injured three days before the quarterfinals.

However, UK got big boosts from Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones to help make up for Vanderbilt’s absence. Gabriel ended up making the all-tournament team, while Killeya-Jones provided quality minutes down the stretch of the championship game.

“Sacha played really well this whole tournament, P.J. played well, Wenyen played well,” Kevin Knox said of his teammates. “Everyone stepped up and tried to do something that Jarred couldn’t.”

The result ended up crowning UK as SEC champions, which should provide the Cats a big boost heading into the biggest tournament of the season, the NCAA Tournament.

“I think this was exactly what we needed, especially a game like that,” Killeya-Jones said. “…We executed down the stretch, we did everything we needed to do, and that’s all the stuff we need to do in the tournament to win those games.”

So how many games can UK win in the big dance? That will remain a mystery, as Calipari has said many times his team can revert at any minute, but the results that took place in St. Louis this weekend will only increase people’s faith that they can do damage in the tournament.

One thing that should make people feel confident in the Cats was their fight. Fans have seen many times this season the Cats build big leads and lose them in an instant, and that almost happened in the title game, but the Cats fought back.

“So they start the second half and make another run at us, and I’ve got to call a time-out right before the 16- minute mark, and this team responded. They responded,” Calipari said.

If UK continues to fight the way they did in the SEC title game, they can beat anyone in the NCAA Tournament, and the players believe the same.

“I think we can win the tournament, and I know everybody in this locker room believes that,” Killeya-Jones said. “We’re ready to go do that, we’re ready to execute, we’re ready to just go out there and fight and win games.”