Cats to face Vols in SEC semis


Freshman guard John Wall drives to the basket during the second half of the game against Tennessee at the Thompson-Bowling Arena on Saturday. Photo by Zach Brake

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A familiar face awaits the Cats (30-2, 14-2 Southeastern Conference).

Tennessee (25-7, 11-5 SEC) defeated Mississippi in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament 76-65, and will now have a rubber match with UK in the SEC Tournament semifinals.

“This is the tiebreaker. This is for all the marbles. That game is over with,” senior guard Bobby Maze said. “We need to get a higher seed in the tournament. I want to get to a 3 seed, possibly a 2. That won’t happen if we don’t beat Kentucky tomorrow. That’s the only way. That’s the biggest game, tomorrow, right here.”

The Vols were led by senior forward Wayne Chism. Chism, a first-team All-SEC selection, scored 16 points and pulled down 15 rebounds.

The UK-Tennessee matchup will be their third of the year. The Cats won the two teams’ first meeting on Feb. 13 at Rupp Arena, 73-62. Tennessee then held serve two weeks later in Knoxville, Tenn., handing UK it’s second loss of the season 74-65.

In that second game, UK rallied from a 19-point second half deficit to tie the game with just over two minutes remaining. Tennessee then finished the game on a 9-0 run to give the Vols their second win over a top-2 team at home.

“(Tennessee) is an extremely tough team,” junior forward Patrick Patterson said. “We match up extremely well with one another, they have shooters, they have drivers, they have post play, they have speed just as much as we do. So, we definitely look forward to playing them.”

Tennessee is the only school remaining in the tournament that has beaten UK before, as South Carolina lost in the tournament’s opening game. Tennessee also is the only school that will have a noticeable contingent rivaling that of UK.

Against Alabama on Friday afternoon, Bridgestone Arena resembled Rupp Arena more than it did a neutral setting. On Saturday afternoon, that discrepancy won’t be as large, and the atmosphere will be even more intense.

“These fans will come tomorrow,” Maze said. “Come on, it’s Tennessee and Kentucky. I don’t care if they’re working Saturday. They’re going to take off for this game because it’s Tennessee and Kentucky.”

Patterson said he looks forward to the games against Tennessee because of the trash talking and physicality.

“It definitely helps whenever the trash talking is going around, people being physical, pushing, shoving,” Patterson said. “You want that and you expect that to happen because if you win the game that just shows that you’re the better team. You can also just carry that on to future games.”

When Tennessee and UK meet the stakes are usually high, but with a birth to the SEC Championship game on the line, Saturday afternoon’s game will have the stakes pushed even higher. Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl said, if you want to be the best you have to beat the best.

“(UK is) the best team here,” Pearl said. “They’re one of the best teams in the country. And, obviously, an opportunity to play them and win a championship is something that you relish that opportunity. And we’ll prepare, and we’ll get after it.”

Freshman guard Eric Bledsoe was ready for UK’s next opponent, who he didn’t know at the time, following their quarterfinal game against Alabama.

“Tennessee beat us once,” Bledsoe said. “They’re just going to have to bring it.”