BIG BLUE FANS FOR
Coach Calipari is putting the finishing touches on his 9 th UK basketball team, and guided his team to the SEC Tournament's Championship game for the 8 th time in those nine seasons. In the seven previous appearances in the Sunday Classic, Cal's Cats have carried home the hardware five times. Tomorrow afternoon, the Cats will face regular season co-champion Tennessee with the SEC Tournament Championship the prize. The Wildcats are no stranger to the SEC Tournament Championship game. Since 1979, when the conference restarted the tournament, the Cats have played in 25 of the 39 championship games, winning 18 times and losing 7 times. That is a 72% winning percentage in the championship game. As noted previously, during the 8 Calipari years, UK has appeared in this game seven times, winning 5 for a winning percentage of 71.4%.
Kentucky and Tennessee are not basketball strangers, but oddly, they have not collided in the SEC tournament since 2010, Coach Calipari's first season at UK.
This season, Tennessee swept the two game home and home series from the Cats. In the first game, in Knoxville, the Cats led the Volunteers by 8 points, 37-29, at halftime. However, the second half was an entirely different story, as the Volunteers outscored the Cats 47-30 for an 11 point win. That game was a turning point for both teams. Tennessee had opened their SEC season 0-2 including a home loss to Auburn while the Cats had opened 2-0 including a road win at LSU. If the Cats could have escaped Knoxville with another road win while handing the Volunteers their 3 rd consecutive loss and second consecutive home loss, the prospects of each team, moving forward, would have appeared entirely different. But that was not to be the case.
In the second game, at Rupp, the Volunteers caught the Cats in the midst of their lowest point, the second loss of what would become a four game losing streak. Even though the Cats made a valiant effort, Tennessee got out of Rupp Arena with a 2 point win after Shai Gilgeous-Alexander turned the ball over twice in the last minutes, and Tennessee converted a 2 point deficit into their 2 point win. After leaving Rupp, Tennessee lost two of their next 3 games, at Alabama by 28 and at Georgia by 11. Thereafter, the Volunteers finished with seven consecutive wins, including the two wins in the tournament to advance into the championship game.
Granted, Tennessee is putting a strong finish on their clearly strong season. However, few teams in college basketball have been playing any better basketball over the last 9 games since the loss to Tennessee at Rupp. Yes, the Cats did stub their toes at Florida last Saturday, but over the final 9 games, including the losses at Florida, at Auburn, and at Texas A&M, the Cats have played with an average ANE of 0.280 ppp, which is considerably higher than the team's season long average ANE of 0.204 ppp. In contrast, Tennessee over their last 9 games, since their victory at Rupp, has played with an average ANE of 0.160 ppp which is considerably lower than their team's season long average ANE of 0.232 ppp.
Since I am attached to my “numbers” at the hip, I will remain true to form and report that based on these numbers, Tennessee is favored to beat the Cats by 3 points, 73-70. However, based on the recent performance by both teams as their seasons moved toward this moment, these limited scope numbers indicate a Kentucky win over the Volunteers by 9. My head stays with the traditional numbers, and my heart beats with the more limited numbers, more favorable to our Cats.
I say we all sit back, let the boys get it on and let's enjoy this one from the heart.
Jarred Vanderbilt sitting with an ankle injury. Coach Calipari will start Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nick Richards, Kevin Knox, Wenyen Gabriel, and Hamidou Diallo against Alabama. PJ Washington, Sacha Killeya-Jones, and Quade Green represent the experienced bench tonight.
The Volunteers control the opening tip and scores within a few seconds down low. The Cats answer with a 3 pointer by Kevin Knox on the Cats' first offensive possession. After the Volunteers tie the score with 1 of 2 from the line, the Cats get their second 3 pointer by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a baseline jumper by Kevin Knox to move in front 8-3 at the under 16 media timeout. In the second segment, the Cats extend their lead to 8, 18-10, on the strength of two more three pointers, one by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the other by Wenyen Gabriel. The Cats have the ball after the under 12 media timeout with 11:07 remaining in the first half.
With 10:17 left in the first half, PJ Washington picks up his second foul, and Tennessee trims the 10 point lead to 8 on a pair of free throws. The Cats had moved on top 20-10 after the timeout with a pair of free throws by Wenyen Gabriel. Coach Calipari is 230-5 at Kentucky when the Cats have led by 10 or more points at any point of the game. After having that lead trimmed to 8, the Cats scored the next 7 points to lead by 15, 27-12, and Tennessee took a timeout with 8:17 left in the first half.
In the fourth segment, the Cats extend their lead to a game high 17 points, but Tennessee trims the lead to 15, 33-18, at the under 4 media timeout with 3:27 left in the first half. In the final segment, Tennessee makes 3 of 4 from outside the arc to trim the one time 17 point UK lead to 8 points, forcing Coach Calipari to take a timeout with 1:27 left in the half and leading 35-27. Tennessee cuts the lead to a mere 5 points, 36-31 at the half.
The largest lead of the first half was 17 points for the Cats and 2 points for Tennessee. There 1 tie and 1 lead change.
The Cats scored 36 points on 30 possessions, 1.200 points per possession, and TENNESSEE managed their 31 points on 31 possessions, 1.000 ppp. The Cats made 46.7% (14-30) of their first half shots, including 5-10 from outside the arc. TENNESSEE managed to make 28.1% (9-32) of their first half shots, including 4-13 from outside the arc.
The Cats committed 5 turnovers in the first half while TENNESSEE committed 5 turnovers.
The Cats made 3-4 from the line (75.0%) and TENNESSEE made 9-11 from the line (81.8%).
On the Boards, the Cats won the rebounding battle 20-19, and the Vols controlled the offensive glass 10-7. Tennessee won the second chance points 7-2. The Cats secured 43.8% of their misses and allowed TENNESSEE to grab 43.5% of their misses as second chance opportunities.
Tennessee opens the second half and go on a 10-2 run, reminiscent of the start of the second half in Knoxville, to move on top by 3, 41-38. Coach Calipari takes a timeout with 16:34 left in the game. The 17 point first half lead is gone plus 3 points over the last 5 minutes of the first half and the first 3 ½ minutes of the second half. After the timeout, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander gets a pair of baskets around a Tennessee turnover to regain the lead, 42-41 at the under 16 media timeout. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will have one free throw after the break to complete a 3 point play. After the timeout, the Cats tighten up their defense, force a couple of Tennessee turnovers, and make 3 of their 4 shots to move out to a 9 point lead, 52-43. Tennessee takes a timeout with 12:37 left. After the timeout, PJ Washington commits his third foul. Tennessee gets a basket and a 3 pointer around a Kentucky turnover to trim the lead back to 4 points, 52-48, at the under 12 media timeout with 11:34 remaining and the Cats in possession.
In the third segment, it was all Tennessee. The Cats only made 1 of 4 shots, and missed the front end from the line while Tennessee made 3-5 including 2-3 from long range, and 1-1 from the line to move into a 2 point lead, 57-55 at the under 8 media timeout with 7:47 left in the game. PJ Washington, who missed the front end earlier will be at the line after the break. PJ Washington made both this time to tie the score, 57-57. After ties at 59, and 61, Tennessee eased back into a 1 point lead, 62-61. The Cats then get 5 second chance points to move out to a 4 point lead, 66-62. Tennessee takes a timeout with 3:35 left, and Tennessee in possession of the ball.
With a 6 point advantage, Wenyen Gabriel fouls out with 2:27 left in the game. Tennessee makes both free throws to trim the lead to 4. A 3 pointer by Tennessee trims the lead to 1 point, 68-67, and Coach Calipari takes a timeout with 1:13 left in the game. The Cats go up by 3 points, 70-67 with 41 second left. When Tennessee misses from close range, PJ Washington gets the rebound, gets the ball out to Quade Green, who goes to the line for a pair of free throws. Cats up by 5 with 34 seconds left. Tennessee scores to trim the lead back to 3 points on a second chance possession with 21 seconds left. Tennessee takes a timeout. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander makes a pair of free throws to move up by 5 with 17 seconds left.
Cats win by 5, 77-72.
UK scored its 77 points on 61 possessions (1.262 ppp) for the game, and TENNESSEE scored its 72 points on 62 possessions (1.161 ppp).
Tennessee won the battle of the boards, with a rebounding edge 34-32, and Tennessee controlled the offensive glass 18-11. Kentucky used its 11 second chance possession to score 8 second chance points, and TENNESSEE used its 18 second chance possessions to score 22 second chance points. TENNESSEE had an offensive efficiency of 0.806 ppp on its 62 first chance possessions and 1.222 ppp for its 18 second chance possessions. UK had 1.131 ppp on its 61 first chance possessions and 0.727 ppp on its 11 second chance possession. With respect to the offensive rebounding, UK grabbed 40.7% of its misses as offensive rebounds while TENNESSEE was able to convert 46.2% of its misses into bonus possessions with offensive rebounds.
UK made 20-24 (83.3%) from the free throw line in this game. TENNESSEE made 16-20 [80.0%] for the game. Field goal shooting for UK was 25-50 overall [50.0%] and 7-16 from long range [43.8%]. For Tennessee, their field goal shooting from inside the arc was 13-35 [37.1%] and from long range, TENNESSEE hit 10-27 [37.0%].
The Cats committed 10 turnovers, one for every 6.1 possessions. The Cats forced 10 TENNESSEE turnovers, one for every 6.2 possessions.
Next Game On Schedule: The Cats will play next in the NCAA Tournament against an opponent at a time and place to be determined this evening.
Submitted by Richard Cheeks
Submitted by Richard Cheeks