Wildcats claw through SEC tournament

Kentucky Wildcats celebrate SEC Championship win. photo: University of Kentucky website

Kentucky Wildcats celebrate SEC Championship win.
photo: University of Kentucky website

34-0 is the Kentucky Wildcats’ record thus far. The #1 team in the land added another Southeastern Conference tournament championship win to its resume this past Sunday in Music City as they head into the NCAA tournament. This makes title number ‘28’ for the most prestigious program in the history of college basketball.

They’re only the fourth team to go into the NCAA tournament undefeated since Indiana finished off the last perfect season with a title in 1976. The last three teams since going into the NCAA tournament undefeated have all lost.

“We’re only guaranteed one game. The slate is clean,” said Willie Cauley-Stein. “From here on out, you’re 0-0.”

With perfection as their aim, Kentucky faithful filled Bridgestone Arena with blue and white from top to bottom for an SEC tournament record attendance of over 20,000. The final score was 78-63. Willie Cauley-Stein scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as Kentucky never trailed No. 21 Arkansas. Andrew Harrison added 15 points for Kentucky. His brother Aaron had 11.

The Wildcats shot 51%. The game started 8-0 Wildcats, as Andrew Harrison hit two three-pointers early. Arkansas had not trailed in this tournament until Sunday afternoon. The Razorbacks tied the game four times, all in the first half.  That’s the closest they’d get. The Razorbacks struggled to knock down shots inside against Kentucky’s brick walls. Kentucky scored seven straight as part of a 16-4 run to finish the first half, with a 41-25 lead.

Arkansas started the second half much better and got as close as nine points four times—didn’t matter. The Wildcats pushed the lead to as many as 21 points down the stretch, even though a very questionable call occurred the last time the Razorbacks cut the lead to nine points with 8:23 remaining. Moses Kingsley was assessed a technical foul for supposedly hanging on the rim after he dunked the ball off an Rashad Madden assist. The call clearly disrupted Arkansas’s momentum. From then on, the cardinal and white were doomed. The Razorbacks only went to the free throw line 17 times, cashing in on 11 of those.

The Razorbacks (26-8) were trying to win their second tournament title and first since 2000. Michael Qualls came off the bench for only the second time this season, scoring 18 points. Bobby Portis, SEC player of the year, added 13 points, but a season low with two rebounds.

“Our guys fought, scratched and clawed”, said Arkansas Head Coach Mike Anderson. “In the end, I thought their depth and size were hard to overcome.”

Last year, Arkansas swept Kentucky. This year, the Wildcats were too good. With limitless depth, Coach Calipari committed a juggling act with his Wildcats. They simply ran around the Razorbacks’ stifling pressure defense seemingly all game long. Karl-Anthony Towns stayed in foul trouble, but still had a huge impact on the game across the board for the Cats—adding eight points, four rebounds, two blocks, two assists and one steal.