By Joe Cox
NASHVILLE – The Kentucky Wildcats claimed the school’s 30th Southeastern Conference tournament championship with an 82-65 victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks Sunday, March 12. Kentucky’s title win was John Calipari’s fifth SEC Tournament title in his eight seasons in Lexington, and places the Wildcats with an 11-game winning streak and a likely candidate for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which begins in full this coming Thursday. (Officially, this is Kentucky's 30th SEC Tournament title as the 1988 championship was later vacated.)
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Kentucky (29-5) trailed for less than two minutes as Arkansas (25-9) never led by more than two points, or led after the 14:36 mark of the opening half. Kentucky shot 60.7 percent in the first half on its way to a 42-30 advantage at the intermission. Edrice “Bam” Adebayo (pictured) had 10 first half points, and senior guard Dominique Hawkins added nine in the opening stanza.
The Wildcats stretched the lead to as many as 19 points midway through the second half. Arkansas trimmed the gap to nine points with a minute and a half to play, but could work no closer. Arkansas is expected to be a middle-of-the-pack seed later today when the NCAA Tournament field is announced.
Kentucky’s leading scorer in Sunday’s matchup was De’Aaron Fox, who battled early foul trouble and some hard fouls from Arkansas players to finish with 18 points. He was joined in double figures by Adebayo, who finished with 17 points and nine rebounds. Also scoring in double figures was freshman guard Malik Monk (17 points) and Hawkins (14 points, setting a career high). The Razorbacks were led by reserve guard Daryl Macon’s 18 points. Guard Dusty Hannahs added 14 and Jaylen Barford scored 13 points in the loss. All-SEC forward Moses Kinglsey was ejected late after a hard foul on Fox.
Kentucky placed Fox, Hawkins, and Adebayo on the SEC All-Tournament team, announced immediately after the game. They were joined by Arkansas’ Daryl Macon and Vanderbilt’s Riley LaChance. Fox was chosen as Tournament MVP in no small part on the basis of his 66 points in UK’s three wins. A jubilant Kentucky team accepted the tournament trophy from SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey.
It will be a short rest for the Wildcats, as they will begin NCAA play either Thursday or Friday, with the specifics to be determined by the NCAA Selection Committee’s announcement later this evening.
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com Magazine. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written five books, and his most recent, Almost Perfect (a study of baseball pitchers’ near-miss attempts at perfect games), is available on Amazon or at many local bookstores. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Photo by UK Athletics