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By Chris DePew
March 10, 2018
Kentucky’s offense proved unstoppable in the second half, as the No. 4 Wildcats shot better than 84 percent after the break to bury ninth-seeded Alabama 86-63 in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament in St. Louis.
What did we learn today?: A lack of secondary scorers is going to be what ultimately dooms this team. With no Donta Hall available to present a threat in the paint, UK was able to throw everything at defending Collin Sexton without worrying much about anyone else. Even with a jury-rigged starting five, it is completely unacceptable for four of those players to combine for just nine points, including shutouts for Herbert Jones and Galin Smith.
It is equally unacceptable for sophomore leaders Dazon Ingram and Braxton Key to combine for only seven points on 3-for-16 shooting. Yes they were tired. Yes losing Hall to a concussion was deflating. Yes the Wildcats are playing championship defense this weekend. But too many guys disappear when things get tough.
What were the biggest concerns?: UK averages a little more than five 3-pointers made per game and shoots in the neighborhood of 35 percent from deep. But Saturday the Wildcats went 12-for-18 behind the arc, led by Wenyen Gabriel’s record-setting 7-for-7 performance. Defending the perimeter has been an Achilles heel all season for the Crimson Tide, and UK took advantage where UK could not. It wasn’t a matter of playing hard, as Alabama clawed its way to a 31-27 rebounding advantage and forced 10 turnovers. But with the offense never clicking and Kentucky steadily building its lead, Bama never truly threatened after halftime and the defensive intensity couldn’t help but fade away.
What was the best part of the game?: John Petty finally knocking the lid off the rim. His big outburst came in garbage time, although Kentucky didn’t regard it as such once he briefly trimmed the lead down to nine points late, but it was great to see Petty finally make shots in an away jersey. His 18 points, powered by five 3-pointers, were more than he’d scored in the last four games combined and the most he has scored outside the state of Alabama. The Tide desperately needs him to be confident and effective as it tries for its first NCAA victory since 2006.
Who was the star?: Collin Sexton should be a lock for the all-tournament team even without reaching the final. It wasn’t his most efficient shooting day but he kept grinding and wound up with 21 points, five rebounds and three assists. By comparison, Kentucky held SEC player of the year Yante Maten to nine of Georgia’s 49 points in the quarterfinals. His 79 points for the tournament are an Alabama record.
What’s next?: The Tide officially learns whether it has broken a five-year NCAA drought on Sunday’s selection show, which switches to TBS for the first time and begins at 5 p.m. Central.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris
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