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SEC Tournament: Wildcats roll Tide to advance to semifinals, 73-75, avenging an earlier two-point loss


By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

NASHVILLE — Kentucky got even with Alabama.
 
The Wildcats (27-5) avenged a 77-75 loss to the Crimson Tide earlier this season and welcomed the return of senior Reid Travis to the lineup with a 73-55 win in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament Friday night at Bridgestone Arena.

“It was a good win,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “I thought we really guarded. We rebounded. The last time we played them, they out-rebounded us by 10 rebounds. This game we out-rebounded them by 10 rebounds. I still think we missed a bunch of shots. Ashton is 1-6, Keldon is 1-7. Two good offensive players. Good to have Reid back. Just the strength in having a guy when it comes a time, you have to go get the ball, he can physically get down there and go get it. It was good having him back.”

‘Cats celebrate during the first half of win over Alabama. (Kentucky Today Photo by Tammie Brown)

Kentucky, a No. 2 seed, will play the winner of the Tennessee-Mississippi State contest in the second of two quarterfinal games Saturday at Bridgestone Arena. Florida takes on Auburn in the opener at 1 p.m. The Gators eliminated top-seeded LSU 76-73 at the buzzer Friday afternoon. The Tigers posted a 73-64 win over South Carolina. 

Travis returned to the lineup after missing the previous five games because of a strained knee. Travis made his first appearance in nearly a month at the 17:23 mark of the first half. Travis finished with eight points and played 23 minutes. Travis started and scored Kentucky’s first basket of the second half and also chipped in with seven rebounds. The crowd gave a roar when he stepped back on the floor.

“Just to hear that big roar and the cheers meant a lot,” Travis said. “It just how much support you really have with this team. They really do care and it warmed my heart to hear.”

Tyler Herro paced the Wildcats with 20 points and tallied 11 in the first half. 

“I think coach and my teammates just put me in the right situations,” Herro said. “They trust me to take shots. My teammates trust me to take shots. I was taking shots that I can make.”

Immanuel Quickley came off the bench and scored 12 points. Quickly was 3-for-3 from the field and perfect on all three of his shots from long range. PJ Washington followed Herro with 10 points and has scored double figures in four straight contests and 16 of the past 17 games.

Washington added 12 rebounds as Kentucky held a 42-32 edge on the glass. The Wildcats also held Alabama to zero points in transition and held leading scorer Tevin Mack scoreless.

“We didn’t let them get out in transition,” he said. “We rebounded the ball really well and those are two things we didn’t do down in Tuscaloosa. We tried to focus on those (two things).”

Overall, Calipari was pleased with his team’s performance.

“To win in any kind of tournament, this tournament, the next tournament, you have to put strings of games together where you play 40 minutes,” he said. “Forget about the score, worry about playing. This team has done it, but we’ve also played halves of games. We’re just trying to focus on that right now: play to the training.”

Alabama defeated Mississippi 62-57 in the second round but couldn’t sustain the momentum against the Wildcats. The Crimson Tide was led by Alex Reece who finished with 15 points and Donta Hall chipped in with 14.

“They came out and put an extreme amount of pressure on us defensively,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said.”We didn’t do a great job of getting in our offense. They turned us over. They blocked shots. I don’t know if I’ve ever been a part of a game where a team had nine blocked shots in the first half.

“They were active. We just weren’t efficient on the offensive end. That carried over defensively. We couldn’t get our defense set. We just struggled to score.

BLOCK PARTY

Kentucky collected 11 blocks, paced by Washington with four and Travis with three. Keldon Johnson, Herro, EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards each had one block. The Crimson Tide managed just 18 points in the paint.

BACKUPS STEP UP

Kentucky got 35 points from its reserves, including nine from forward Nick Richards. Richards and EJ Montgomery combined for 11 points and five rebounds.

Nine of Kentucky’s 10 players scored in the contest.

In his first postseason outing, Kentucky sophomore guard Jemarl Baker contributed with six points and scored six points in the first half. Baker had scored eight points combined in the previous eight games. 

“I just wanted to come out and bring energy, whoever I could, whether it was on defense or taking a shot,” Baker said. “I just wanted to play hard and make an impact with my teammates.”

SEC SUCCESS

Kentucky improved to 23-3 in the SEC Tournament under John Calipari. The Wildcats have won four straight tournament titles, including the last three at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Alabama has lost four straight to the Wildcats in the postseason and fell to 2-17 against Kentucky in the conference tournament.

Kentucky is 45-11 in quarterfinal games and will be making its sixth consecutive appearance in the semifinals. 

Gametrackerkeith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.


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