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SEC Tournament: Kentucky gets double bye, plays winner of Ole Miss-Alabama in quarterfinals


By Keith Taylor
KyForward senior sports writer

The stage is set for the Southeastern Conference Tournament and regular season co-champion Kentucky opens the postseason Friday night.

The Wildcats, a No. 2 seed, will take on the winner of Mississippi and Alabama. Texas A&M, which shared the title with the Wildcats, is in the upper bracket. Both teams drew a double-bye as a reward for sharing the conference title.

 Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis and the Wildcats open the postseason Friday in the SEC Tourney in Nashville (Bill Thiry Photo)

Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis and the Wildcats open the postseason Friday in the SEC Tourney in Nashville (Bill Thiry Photo)

Kentucky (23-8), coming off a 94-77 rout of LSU Saturday, defeated Ole Miss and Alabama during the regular season. UK rolled past the Rebels 83-61 and swept two games from the Crimson Tide, winning 77-61 in Tuscaloosa and 78-53 at Rupp Arena.

Kentucky senior Alex Poythress is looking forward to the postseason. He missed last year’s conference tournament run because of a season-ending knee injury.

“It’s tournament time,” he said. “This is the time you want to click, just want everybody healthy and everybody at their best. This is what you work for all year.”

In addition to having a full roster of players, Poythress added that paying attention to small details also will be a key to the team’s success in the postseason.

“We need to pay attention to our scouting report because you’re not going to be able to scout a team for a week (or a) couple (of) days,” Poythress said. “You find out who you play the day before. You just have to figure out and listen to the coaches.”

LINK: SEC TOURNAMENT BRACKET

Despite late-season losses at Texas A&M and Vanderbilt, the Wildcats finished the season on a strong note, posting double-digit victories in six of their past eight games. Poythress said the difference-maker has been a renewed emphasis on defense.

“You just gotta stop your man from scoring,” he said. “You have to have pride about it. It comes down mano y mano, like, ‘I’m not letting this man score on me,’ and you have to feel that way every time, every possession.”

Although Kentucky has already defeated Ole Miss and Alabama this season, Poythress said it doesn’t make things any easier the second and possibly third time around.

“Rematches are always hard because they always change what they did against you,” he said. “They always make adjustments. You have to be wary of that.”

A year ago, Kentucky kept it perfect record intact with wins over Florida, Auburn and Arkansas in the tourney. The Wildcats have won the won the last two tournament titles in Nashville (2010 and 2015).

Despite the past success, Tyler Ulis said the team is motivated to win with a new team and improve their seeding in the NCAA Tournament.

“Last year was just a completely different team,” Ulis said. “We don’t have the same guys, some of the guys went pro. So this is a different team, it’s a young team. Going in there trying to win games to improve our seed just helps us and motivate us a little more.”

The semifinals are set for 1 and 3:30 p.m. Saturday and the finals will be at 1 p.m. Sunday at Bridgestone Arena and televised on ESPN.

Game tracker: Kentucky vs. winner of Mississippi-Alabama, SEC Tournament, 7 p.m., Friday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, 98.1 FM WBUL

Keith Taylor is a columnist and senior sports writer who covers University of Kentucky athletics for KyForward.com


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