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RECAP: Vols rally past Cats

Kentucky blows eight-point lead with 2:32 remaining as Tennessee explodes for four consecutive three-point scoring trips down the stretch. Wildcats lose in SEC semifinals for only the third time in 45 appearances. 

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Kentucky's EJ Montgomery battled Tennessee's Admiral Schofield for a rebound in Saturday's SEC Tournament semifinal game.
Jeff Houchin/Cats Illustrated

Kentucky is mortal in the SEC Tournament semifinals after all.

Entering Saturday's clash with Tennessee at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, the Wildcats were 42-2 all-time in the league's semifinal bracket, but the Volunteers had what it took to end UK's historical dominance, erasing an eight-point deficit in the final 2:32 to claim an 82-78 victory.

"It was a hard-fought game against a top-ranked team," UK head coach John Calipari said. "Anybody could have won the game. We had our chances."

No. 4 Kentucky and No. 8 Tennessee each blew out the other during the two regular-season matchups in Lexington and Knoxville. It was only fitting that the rubber match came down to the final minute of play.

Trailing 72-64, the third-seeded Vols went on an 18-6 run to close out the game. They benefited both from their skill, converting four consecutive trips that ended in three points, as well as some breakdowns from the young Cats. UK turned the ball over twice during the decisive spurt, both leading to three points for UT.

SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams came up big for Tennessee (29-4) scoring 10 of his 20 points in the final 4:03. His talented teammate, Admiral Schofield, also came up big with a game-high 21 points.

Kentucky (27-6) was plagued by foul trouble throughout the game. The Cats played the final 14 minutes of the first half without All-American forward PJ Washington, and played the final 2:32 without senior forward Reid Travis, who picked up two questionable fouls down the stretch.

"A tough one to swallow," Calipari said. "It just goes to show you how important Reid is in these high-level games. The other guys weren't ready for this. They just weren't... When it's win or lose time, (Travis) needs to be on the floor."

The Cats lost despite shooting 54 percent from the field, holding Tennessee to 46 percent, and out-rebounding the Vols 32-29. But the UT knocked down 10 shots from 3-point range, including 7-of-9 shooting in the first half.

Five UK players scored in double figures, led by Washington with 16. Keldon Johnson added 15, followed by Travis (11), Tyler Herro (10) and Ashton Hagans (10). Hagans also dished out a career-high 12 assists.

*****

In this Cats Illustrated "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from the UK loss...

THE GOOD:

Much like last month's game in Knoxville, Kentucky faced a lot of adversity in this one. Unlike the visit to Rocky Top, however, the Cats did not fold. Despite the bad finish, UK had put itself in a position for a second win over a really strong team. If they learn from the mistakes that cost them the W, it could be beneficial in the NCAA Tournament.

THE BAD:

A lapse in ball security cost Kentucky dearly in the final 2:32. Tyler Herro traveled on an in-bounds pass with the Cats leading by six. A three-point play by UT's Grant Williams suddenly made it a one-possession game. With UK leading 74-72, Keldon Johnson turned the ball over on the sideline under pressure from the Vols. Williams buried a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession and UT led 75-74. With :29 remaining and the Cats leading 76-75, UT's Lamonte Turner hit a 3-pointer that may have been the biggest shot of the game. It was set up by UK's EJ Montgomery losing a rebound to Williams and giving the Vols a second chance to score.

THE UGLY:

Officiating was an abject disaster with the SEC crew turning a highly entertaining game into a showcase for free throws, blown calls, nit-pick whistles, phantom fouls, and a technical against the UK bench. For the second time in three meetings between the teams, PJ Washington sat and watched almost half the game with two questionable fouls. The Vols were also affected with big man Kyle Alexander fouling out with 11 minutes(!) to go. At least one of his that led to his disqualification looked like a make-up call from an error on the other end of the floor. Neither of Travis' final two fouls appeared to be fouls. Can we have a legit discussion about the college game needing to go to six fouls? Fans want to see the top players play, not sit.

GAME BALL:

Grant Williams, Tennessee - The Vols' star showed why he's one of the most dominant players in the nation with his performance down the stretch. Simply put, he took over and carried UT over the finish line. Williams was 5-for-10 from the field and 9-of-11 at the line. He also grabbed a team-high seven rebounds, including arguably the biggest of the game with under a minute to play.

BY THE NUMBERS:

1st - Time Kentucky will not play for SEC championship since 2013.

4th - Loss for John Calipari in 27 SEC Tournament games as coach at UK.

6-4 - Tennessee coach Rick Barnes' record in SEC play versus Calipari.

10 of 21 - Three-point shooting by UT.

20-25 - Vols at the free-throw line.

44-22 - Kentucky scoring advantage in the paint.

50 - Of UT's 82 points coming from the 3-point arc and the free-throw line.

1979 - Last time Tennessee defeated UK in the SEC Tournament, the first year the league renewed the event.

QUOTABLE:

"We gave them open 3s, we didn't contest shots." -- UK head coach John Calipari

UP NEXT:

Kentucky awaits its bid and seeding on Sunday night for the NCAA Tournament. Many analysts are split on whether that will be a No. 1 seed or a No. 2 seed, but the loss to Tennessee may point toward the latter.