The Wildcats are rounding into form just at the right time. Kentucky reached the SEC Tournament final by blowing out Alabama 86-63. The now face Tennessee In the final after the Vols rolled to a big victory of their own against Arkansas.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Use a rested Kevin Knox
Kentucky beat Alabama by 23 points despite only picking up 11 points on the day from forward Kevin Knox. That is a shocking turn of events given how dependent the Wildcats have been on Knox scoring points for large stretches of this season.
The issue for Knox on Saturday wasn’t one of inaccuracy as much as it was one of foul trouble. When Knox picked up his fourth foul with 12 minutes left it meant that he saw extended bench minutes for the second half of the game. The Wildcats were able to dominate Alabama without Knox, odds are that Kentucky will need their scorer back on Sunday against the Vols.
Feed Wenyen Gabriel
Feeding the hot hand is an important key to success in many sports, especially in basketball. Wenyen Gabriel was the definition of the hot hand on Saturday when he lit up Alabama in his best ever performance as a Wildcat.
Gabriel matched his career-high with 23 points, boosted by a 7-for-7 three-point shooting performance when he literally never looked like missing. It was an afternoon for Gabriel when shooting the ball was as easy as throwing rocks in the ocean, as some of the promise he has shown this season finally came to fruition in the Wildcats biggest game of the year so far.
One of the first keys to the Sunday game has to be hitting Gabriel early to see if he is still on fire after a night’s rest.
Defend the Vols hard early
Tennessee is the hottest team that Kentucky will have played in this tournament. The Vols have won six in a row – and 13 of their last – 15 and they blew Arkansas away on Saturday with a first-half barrage that the Razorbacks just couldn’t match.
Jordan Bone scored 17 of his game-high 19 points in the first half as the Vols shot at an insane 76 percent from the field before the break. That halftime score of 48-29 was never one that Arkansas was likely to drag back and the game finished 84-66 in favor of the Vols.
Kentucky has to do a better job against Bone and Tennessee in the first half. Both these squads are hot, so whoever can get ahead going into halftime is going to have a huge advantage in terms of second-half momentum. If Kentucky can defend the three-point line and slow down the Tennessee shooters then they can win the SEC tournament title, an accomplishment that seemed unthinkable a month ago.