UK basketball wins 31st SEC Tournament to cap off weekend


Kentucky sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel celebrates after a basket during the game against Tennessee in the SEC tournament championship on Sunday, March 11, 2018, in St. Louis, Missouri. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Braden Ramsey

In a game of runs that came down to the wire, the four-seed Kentucky basketball team defeated the two-seed Tennessee Volunteers 77-72 to claim their 31st SEC Championship title, in a what was a hotly contested game through the very end. Kentucky was led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s 29 points, seven rebounds, and three assists.

The Cats got off to a fast start, hitting their first three shots for an 8-3 lead in the opening minutes. Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox – who would finish with 18 points – both hit two threes, each contributing 10 points to a 27-12 Kentucky advantage early. The defense for Kentucky was locked in for the first 17 minutes, forcing three turnovers while holding Tennessee to 19 percent from the field and under 12 percent from behind the arc in that span.

At the three-minute mark, Admiral Schofield got hot for Tennessee, scoring 13 straight for the Vols as part of a 15-3 run to end the first half, singlehandedly keeping them in the game. This stretch made it 36-31 Kentucky after 20 minutes of play.

The Volunteers picked up right where they left off at the break, starting the second half by outscoring Kentucky 10-2 and taking a 41-38 lead. The first lead for Tennessee since the score was 2-0 resulted in a Kentucky timeout, as head coach John Calipari tried to regroup his guys.

Regroup they did, as Gilgeuos-Alexander led the charge once again by adding four more points and assisting a Kevin Knox triple in a 14-2 spurt that put the Wildcats up 52-43.

Tennessee wouldn’t go away easily, as they went on a 14-3 run to retake the lead 57-55 with 7:47 remaining in the game. After the run, Schofield – the Second Team All-SEC member who kept them close in the first half – would exit the contest with an injury, leaving the Vols without one of their best players until the 4:20 mark.

When Schofield checked back in, Wenyen Gabriel – who had 12 points, with two more three-pointers – laid a missed free throw off the glass to regain the lead. A Sacha Killeya-Jones put-back dunk on the next possession was part of six straight points that made it 68-62, giving Kentucky momentum for the ending stretch. One last surge from Tennessee was held off by Gilgeous-Alexander and P.J. Washington knocking down free throws in the waning seconds.

Schofield’s 22 points and 10 rebounds led the Vols, while SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams added 15 points and nine rebounds. Tennessee – who would have become a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament with a win according to ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi – will have to wait until next season to try and end their now 40-year SEC tournament championship drought.

Both teams will move on to play in the NCAA Tournament, and will find out their Round of 64 opponent in the NCAA Selection Show, live on TBS at 6 p.m. ET this evening.