NASHVILLE, Tennessee – The only bad thing about the NCAA tournament is that it dwarfs everything that comes before it. Months of effort and excellence are reduced to prelude. Great games are forgotten.
Carve out a slice of memory for Tennessee 82, Kentucky 78. The Saturday semifinal in the Southeastern Conference tournament deserves it.
It was tense and intense, with sustained drama from a torrid opening through a Tennessee comeback in the final minutes.
"Honestly," said Vols senior Admiral Schofield, "that's one of the most played games ever played."
He's played in 127 or them as a collegian. The Wildcats are really good. The Volunteers were better off.
But wait, there I go looking ahead. First hit look at this battle
Tennessee hit Kentucky with a 7-of-9 3-point shooting in the first half, and the Wildcats never blinked. They were just two points at halftime, even with star P.J. Washington sitting out 14 minutes with foul trouble, thanks to the usual assault on the backboard.
The Volunteers finally started missing threes in the second half – eight straight, in fact – and UK seemed to assert control. When the 'Cats budgeted the lead out to eight points with 2:58 remaining, a potentially classic game seemed doomed to an anticlimactic ending.
"We should win that game," John Calipari said. "They're not winning the game. We're not stopping." "
<p class =" canvas-atom canvas-text Mb (1.0em) Mb (0) – sm Mt (0.8em) – sm "type =" text "content =" Tennessee would not be stopped. Grant Williams undersized against Kentucky's long front line, went around, over and through the Cats for five straight points to make it 72-69. Then, in the final two minutes – when the shots absolutely had to fall – The Volunteers dropped a trio of threes on Kentucky. " data response time = "42"> Tennessee would not be stopped. Grant Williams, undersized against Kentucky's long front line, went around, over and through the Cats for five straight points to make it 72-69. Then, in the final two minutes – when the shots absolutely had to fall – the Volunteers dropped a trio of threes on Kentucky.
Schofield hit one to make it a two-point game. Then Williams swished one from the corner – the first three he's made in two weeks – to give Tennessee the lead again at 75-74. Kentucky guard Ashton Hagans (2) is helped up by Keldon Johnson (3) after Williams offensive rebound and a timeout with 38.5 seconds left, Kentucky back in the lead by a point, the Vols hit the dagger shot. Hagans was called for a foul in the final minute of an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee at the Southeastern Conference tournament Saturday, March 16, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. Kentucky head coach John Calipari is at right and EJ Montgomery (23) is at left. Tennessee won 82-78. (AP Photo / Mark Humphrey) ” class=”JsEnabled_Op(0) JsEnabled_Bg(n) Trsdu(.42s) Bgr(nr) Bgz(cv) StretchedBox W(100%) H(100%) ie-7_H(a)” itemprop=”url” style=”background-image:url(https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/DqxWryjYXbAr_jwh7gI6Kg–~A/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjtzbT0xO3c9ODAw/https://img.huffingtonpost.com/asset/5c8d8d6d23000035006bf940.jpeg);” src=”https://s.yimg.com/g/images/spaceball.gif” data-reactid=”48″/>
<p class = "canvas-atom canvas-text Mb (1.0em) Mb (0) – sm Mt (0.8em) – sm" type = "text" content = " Schofield had an opening to drive into the lane and perhaps all the way to the basket, but he spied Lamonte Turner out front. " data response time = "64"> Schofield had an opening to drive into the lane and perhaps all the way to the basket, but he spat Lamonte Turner out front.
"When I saw him open, you've got to give The Admiral's confidence in Turner didn't seem particularly well-founded. Up to that moment, the junior guard was 1-for-19 from the 3-point range this March. But he stepped into the shot and let it fly, as 20,933 fans collectively hold their breath. When it swished with 29 seconds left, Tennessee had the lead for good.
"Honestly, I've been thinking too much," Turner said. "I've been overthinking my shots."
He did not overthink this one, and the veteran Vols put the game on ice with a defensive stop and four free throws in the final seconds.
Now it's Kentucky's job not to overthink this loss
2 NCAA seed doesn't matter. Beyond that, the Wildcats can leave Nashville still feeling very good about their chances about the next couple of weeks.
Yeah, there are some issues to address regarding the late-game collapse. Kentucky didn't handle a late switch to Tennessee by terribly well, and there were a couple of late turnovers by freshman guards that calipari attributed at least in part to fatigue, which is on him.
But all things considered, this was a comeback Tennessee made happening more than Kentucky. This was not a blow in a nine-point lead in the final two minutes against Kansas in the 2008 national title game. This was a bunch of juniors and seniors making clutch play after clutch play to pull out one of Tennessee's biggest wins ever
The Vols will play Sunday for the SEC tourney title, something they haven't won in 40 years . That's worth getting excited about, if it happens on Selection Sunday. And if Tennessee does this, this semi-final triumph is likely to be the game everyone remembers.
At least it should be. Don't let what happens over the next three weeks wipe it from your memory banks – because the games are likely to be as good as this one.
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