Four takeaways from Kentucky’s 69-62 loss to Tennessee in SEC Tournament Semifinals


Kentucky Wildcats guard Kellan Grady (31) looks for an open pass during the UK vs. Tennessee SEC Tournament semifinal mens basketball game on Saturday, March 12, 2022, at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Hunter Shelton

TAMPA, Fla.—Kentucky fell 69-62 to Tennessee in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament on Saturday afternoon inside Amalie Arena. 

Kentucky trailed for the entirety of the second half, despite cutting the deficit down to one possession with under a minute left.

Here are four takeaways from the Wildcats’ defeat: 

Cats fail to adjust in rubber match 

Tennessee got embarrassed 107-79 in game one. Kentucky shot 68 percent inside of Rupp, blitzing the Vols. 

UT then returned the favor in Knoxville with a 76-63 beatdown. While it was a nice revenge game for the Vols, it was Kentucky’s pitiful performance that made headlines. 

Surely 34 percent shooting and 14 turnovers on the road against a rival was just a one-off, right? Nope. 

Once again, UK shot 34 percent, cashing in on only two of 20 3-point attempts.

Tennessee took it right back at Kentucky in game three in Tampa. Once again, the Cats faltered and couldn’t muster any significant offense for 40 minutes. 

Kentucky fought to the end, somehow keeping it within one possession with under a minute to go, but sloppy ball-handling and zero hustle created a gap that was too much to overcome.

Kellan Grady goes missing 

Grady didn’t exactly light it up in the win against Vanderbilt on Friday, but he managed eight points and an assist. Tennessee neutralized the Davidson transfer.

On 1-8 shooting, Grady scored just two points, failing to make a 3-pointer. He was hesitant to shoot on some occasions, so much so that John Calipari opted to play Davion Mintz for a decent chunk of the second half. 

Kentucky couldn’t afford to play hero ball, as there was no Wildcat who was up to the task of breaking down the stout Volunteer defense. UK needed an all-around team effort to crack the code, and Grady’s off-game was costly in accomplishing that. 

No bench production

In 40 minutes, Kentucky recorded just one bench point, a free throw from Davion Mintz in the first half. He and Jacob Toppin shot a combined 0-8 on Saturday. 

With Tshiebwe on the bench for a majority of the first half with two personal fouls, then fouling out down the stretch, Lance Ware played 15 minutes, notching six boards but no buckets. 

No one in the starting five was able to takeover for the Cats, which didn’t cushion the blow as they failed to get that spark plug performance when they really needed it.

Kentucky will likely earn a two seed on Sunday 

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi made Saturday pretty simple for Kentucky. If they won, they would gobble up that final No. 1 seed, regardless of the outcome of the championship. 

A loss, however, keeps the Cats on that two line, giving the Baylor Bears the last one seed. 

The trajectory of Kentucky’s season doesn’t necessarily change all that much, as it’ll likely head to Indianapolis for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tourney, even if it beat Tennessee on Saturday. 

Playing a 16 seed in the first round is always nice, but it isn’t the end-all be-all for the Cats making a deep run in the big dance.