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Kentucky sets sights of fifth straight tournament title as SEC tourney set to get underway in Nashville


By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Kentucky has won four straight Southeastern Conference Tournament titles and the Wildcats want to continue that trend this weekend in Nashville.

Kentucky (26-5, 15-3) finished second in the final standings and received a double-bye in the SEC Tournament. The Wildcats will play the winner of the Mississippi-Alabama contest at 7 p.m. Thursday in Nashville, where Kentucky has won three straight tournament titles.

Kentucky sophomore PJ Washington said the fourth-ranked Wildcats have no intentions of letting up after ending the regular season with two straight victories.

Freshman Ashton Hagans turned in a strong floor game for the Wildcats in a win over Tennessee earlier this year. The Wildcats take on the winner of Mississippi and Alabama at 7 p.m. Friday in Nashville. (Kentucky Today/Tammie Brown)

“Every game we go into, we try to win it,” Washington said. “There’s no point in going in and trying to lose, I don’t believe that. We’re definitely going in trying to win. At the end of the day, I don’t really think the SEC Tournament really matters, it’s the NCAA Tournament, and we know that.”

Like Washington, Kentucky freshman guard Tyler Herro said the team’s ultimate goal in the conference tournament is to prepare for the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats are in the conversation for a No. 1 seed, along with conference rival Tennessee. Kentucky is projected to be the top seed in the South Region.

“Obviously, we want to win — we never want to lose any game,” Herro said. “But we’re building for the last tournament, the NCAA Tournament, so we’re just going to keep taking each game at a time and try to improve.”

Washington was part of last year’s squad that defeated Tennessee to win the tournament in St. Louis. The Kentucky forward has told his freshman teammates “that every game matters and the games are back to back to back, so you’ve got to be healthy and go out there and just try to have fun.”

Freshman Keldon Johnson said the Wildcats are ready for the challenge of possibly playing three games in a three-day span.

“I think we’ve been through the ups and downs of college basketball,” Johnson said. “We’ve been in places where they thought we were the worst team and we’ve been in places where they thought we were one of the best teams in the nation. We just gotta go out there every day and do what we do. We do what we practice every day.”

What will it take to win a fifth-straight tournament championship?

“I think if we just play with the same energy and same focus that we’ve been playing with, I think we’ll be fine,” he said.

Honors

Washington was named first-team All-SEC by the Associated Press on Tuesday, while Tyler Herro was tabbed as the league’s Newcomer of the Year. Washington (First-team All-SEC), Herro (All-SEC second team, All-SEC Freshman Team), Johnson (Freshman of the Year, All-SEC second team, All-freshman team) and Ashton Hagans (co-defensive player of the year, coaches and all-defensive team, coaches)

“I’m just happy to see that we got some recognition,” Washington said. “It’s definitely exciting for all of our guys. We’re just happy to be able to play Friday against the winner of Ole Miss and Alabama.”

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytodayor twitter @keithtaylor21.


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