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Kentucky figures it out without Vanderbilt, beats Georgia 62-49 to advance to SEC semifinals

P.J. Washington had 18 points and seven rebounds Saturday. (Jeff Houchin Photo)


ST. LOUIS — No Jarred Vanderbilt, no problem.

Kentucky overcame a so-so start with suffocating defense at times to beat Georgia 62-49 in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals. The Cats did it even though their best rebounder, freshman Jarred Vanderbilt, missed the game with a leg/ankle injury suffered in practice Tuesday.

Kentucky will face Alabama, an 81-63 winner over Auburn in Friday’s first game, in Saturday’s semifinals. Alabama opened the second half with a 20-2 scoring run when Auburn went 0-for-13 from the field to build a 59-44 lead and never looked back.

“We’re out here with guys figuring it out. At the end of the game was probably the only time I got upset because we’re trying to use clock and we’re shooting it quick,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari. “ I’m not looking at this game when you’re up 12. I’m looking at a game when you’re up 5, and you want to shorten the game a little bit on somebody and make a dagger play.

“We don’t know that stuff yet. We’re trying to work our way through it. We need a game, and we probably need a couple games based on the fact of seeing how these guys are playing together.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the catalyst for Kentucky again with 15 points, nine assists, four rebounds and two steals in 37 minutes.

“I think it was my teammates did a really good job of spacing the floor when I was coming off of pick-and-rolls, and Coach has been drilling that lately, giving it up early off of pick-and-rolls and stuff like that. I just tried to do that today, get guys involved early, and it played well today,” Gilgeous-Alexander said about his nine assists.

P.J. Washington had a game-high 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting and seven rebounds in 35 minutes. Kevin Knox was only 6-for-18 from the field but also had nine rebounds and two steals in 37 minutes.

Kevin Knox had Kentucky’s only blocked shot against Georgia. (Jeff Houchin Photo)

But the most impressive part of the game was UK’s overall energy, especially on defense. Georgia was 6-for-23 from 3-point range and 15 of 53 (28.3 percent) overall. The Bulldogs also had 11 turnovers after making only 12 total in their two previous games.

“It was their third game in three days. Our whole thing was let’s get into their legs. Let’s pressure them. Let’s do things to get into their legs. That was probably the biggest reason,” Calipari said.

“I just didn’t feel like we could ever get in a rhythm offensively today, and we didn’t finish enough plays to give ourselves a rhythm offensively,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “I did think that we defended pretty well. We held them to 62.

“But we just couldn’t offensively find the same rhythm that we had the first couple days of the tournament, and a lot of that should be credited to Kentucky’s defense because John’s done a terrific job with his team.”

Give Calipari credit for having his team focused and putting together a terrific game plan against a team that was desperate to win for two reasons — to keep alive its hopes of playing in the NCAA Tournament and to potentially save coach Mark Fox’s job.

However, Georgia was playing its third game in three days and just could not find a way to solve UK’s defense that often double or triple teamed center Yante Maten. He had nine points — but only two field goals — and four rebounds.

“We just tried to come out and focus on our game plan. We were trying to trap them down low, and I felt like we did a great job of that in both halves,” Washington said. “We limited him to some minor baskets, I think free throws and stuff like that. We just fouled him on some open 3’s too. So he got lucky on those. We slipped up a little bit on the defensive end, but we played great.”

“We just didn’t play with a lot of authority in the low post today. Part of that is certainly because of Kentucky’s defense,” Fox said.

Knox appreciated the way Kentucky fans came to St. Louis to support the Cats. It was his first time to experience the Big Blue Mist that consumes the SEC Tournament annually.

“It was great to see how many fans came out. I think there was more blue than any other team in the whole tournament,” Knox said. “That just shows how committed our fans are. We’ve got the best fans in the world. They travel pretty much anywhere else in the world to watch us play.

“It’s good to know you’ve got your fans in there when you play any game, and they’re there to support you.”

* * *

Calipari does not expect Vanderbilt to play Saturday against Alabama.

“Jarred, what I saw today, will not play tomorrow. He’s still limping. I told him, as soon as you can jump up and grab the rim with two hands, come on over and talk to me. But here’s a kid that, Coach, I can play through this pain. I can do this,” Calipari said. “Look, at this time of year for everyone here, you can’t play with anybody that’s at 80 percent. You can’t. You can’t because the games are at too high level and you just play too hard.”

Freshman guard Quade Green said no Vanderbilt made one obvious change to the team.

“It made us all fight harder for him,” Green said.


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  1. Well we played just good enough to win, and they played good enough to lose. They really lost to tired legs, but it was a better defensive performance from us as well. Two questions for the LV followers; 1. Is there another D-1 coach that jerks players in or out as much as Cal? and 2. Has there been a worse offensive rebounding team at UK than us? Cal just drives me out of my mind with the way he jerks players in and out. I will be, certainly not one of the only, followers that says SKJ never does much with the time he gets, but Cal is the biggest reason for this. Cal said he thought he played good….what?…his stats didn’t bear that out, but he kept getting substituted. What is up with Green?..26 mins. played and 0 points and 0 rebounds. We have a team on paper that looks like they could make a big late season run, but we don’t put one on the court with our inconsistency. Cal said pregame that this team needs effort and intensity, but the only one that has given us that all during the year is SGA. Wenyan and Nick do not have a good pair of hands between them, and the question remains….what is Nick doing on this team?

  2. Mike , I don’t why you always dog our players and Cal if you think your better playing or coaching at this game. Why aren’t you out there doing the professional job it’s easy saying than done just by looking by your eyess. Leave my CATS alone if you gonna dog them or cheer them on and be a real cat fan.

    1. Don’t wastes time on mike even in wins above the projected line he goes negative. he is the president of the negative Nellie club on VV. My father always said avoid negative people in your life because they only want to bring you into their sad sad world. Mike is the president of that club also

  3. How else does “Coach Mike” demonstrate how much more intelligent he is when compared to a true fan ?
    The world is full of coach Mikes ! Most are simply noted and dismissed. This moron is a special case !!

    1. PK…..welcome back..wasnt sure if you ever sobered up or not. It is all true though isn’t it?

      1. I buried my wife of 30+ years you asshole !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        1. PK……you taking things way too’s only a may want to try therapy.

  4. PK…..welcome back..wasnt sure if you ever sobered up or not. It is all true though isn’t it?

  5. Get a life Mike ,God watching you !!!

  6. If you have to close your eyes to be a UK fan, I guess I don’t qualify. Never have and never will, and I have been following them more than 50 years. Even Rupp applauded Ledford for calling it like he saw it. Closing your eyes benefits no one.
    If Georgia wasn’t playing their 3rd game in less than 48 hours, UK might be going home tonight. They had a 17 point lead and let them cut that to 10. UK was consistently beaten to 50/50 balls in the first half and could not block out for rebounds. The biggest problem is that UK doesn’t have a consistent player in any area of the game and that is something you must have to make a run in March. I hope they can pull something out, but I think this team will be real lucky to make it out of the first weekend. Hope I’m wrong, but right now they still look lost and confused.

    1. You hope you are right so you can attack Cal his system and players as you did during the losing streak You have said it over and over you are not a fan of Cal’s approach and you are just waiting to say I told you so.

  7. The not blocking out and not hustling for 50/50 balls has been our problem all year long. We have some players that have been gross underachievers all year as well. I too have been watching UK for about 50 years and have been witness to a lot of great teams during that span, and this team does not measure up, except for a few games this year, to typical UK standards.

  8. Georgia may have been tired, but give Cal credit for the double and triple team scheme he cooked up for Maten. By giving Maten so much attention, it let the Dawgs get a lot of offensive rebounds, but they didn’t do much with them. Now they need to do the same for Sexton…probably will see more zone tomorrow. I wish Cal had not announced that Green was going to go for 25…that really messed with his head. Kudos to PJ for manning up in the absence of Vando. Hami and Gabriel chipped in too. Richards needs to stop thinking so much and just ball. SKJ need to just focus on rebounding and defense and let a few putbacks and maybe a lob or two get him back into the offense. Tomorrow should be a win but that depends on everyone playing hard and smart.

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