After a timely contribution to Kentucky’s victory Saturday, Sacha Killeya-Jones saluted his late grandfather.
“I always have him in the back of my mind,” he said. “I just try to compete and just be a hard-working dude on the court to honor him in that way.”
Paul Jones, who died on Jan. 30, became a Kentucky fan when Killeya-Jones committed to the Cats, the UK player said.
“As soon as I committed, he was the biggest Kentucky fan in the world,” said Killeya-Jones, who then spoke of his grandfather in the present tense. “He wants to see us do well. He wants to see me do well.”
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Kentucky got a lift from Killeya-Jones, who scored six points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked two shots. While those numbers aren’t eye-catching, they seemed significant from a player who had totaled only five points and seven rebounds since Feb. 6.
“I got to tell you, Sacha, who hadn’t had the opportunity, has been playing behind some pretty good players,” UK Coach John Calipari said. “Now, his chance is there. And I’ll tell you, I’m watching him play, both on defense, offense, rebounding the ball. He’s fighting. He makes us different.”
Killeya-Jones’ contributions were timely given how Kentucky played without Jarred Vanderbilt for a second straight game.
Killeya-Jones, who started the second half in place of Nick Richards, played a big part in making sure Alabama would not repeat the epic comeback that beat top-seeded Auburn on Friday.
As a help defender, Killeya-Jones blocked the Tide’s first two shots of the second half.
“Any time I’m on the court, I want to help any way I can,” he said. “Whether scoring or blocking or even rotating on help side (defense).”
When asked if a preseason poll picking Tennessee to finish in 13th place motivates the his team, Admiral Schofield said after the Vols’ semifinal victory over Arkansas, “We just have a standard we’re trying to play towards. … We’re trying to perfect our standard.”
Later in the locker room, Schofield explained what the standard is.
“Being one of the best defensive teams in the country,” he said. “Being the hardest-playing team in the country, not just in the conference.
“And also being a team on the offensive end. Letting everybody share the ball.”
‘Manhandled by men’
After the first UK-Tennessee game this season, Calipari memorably said UK got “manhandled by men.”
When reminded of that quote, Schofield said, “We want to handle business, and that’s what men do. We go out and handle business. The biggest thing for us: tomorrow is just another business day. It’s another work day, and whatever the outcome is, we’re going to go out and compete hard.”
PJ Washington gave the victory over Alabama a memorable highlight. With less than three minutes left in the first half, he drove down the crowded lane and threw down a dunk while being fouled.
“Our team gets a little boost of energy,” Washington said of the psychological impact of such a play. “So I try to bring that, especially that face I made after that.”
“I just mean mugged,” he said. “Every time I try to get an and-one, I try to mean mug and flex a little bit.”
The mean mug can be contagious.
“We all made the face,” Quade Green said of the players’ reaction to Washington’s dunk. “We all made his face.”
Lob or shot?
With the shot clock about to expire early in the second half, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drove into the lane and either threw up a desperation shot toward the basket or coolly executed and well-disguised lob. It was hard to tell.
Whichever it was, Killeya-Jones dunked the ball.
“It was a lob for Sacha,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I saw the shot clock and knew how much time I had.”
Killeya-Jones was not so sure.
“I thought it was going to be a lob at first,” he said. “So I jumped. … It looked like maybe it was going to come down on the edge of the rim. But I dunked it anyway. And they didn’t call it (offensive goaltending), which was good.”
On the next dead ball, Killeya-Jones asked Gilgeous-Alexander if it was a lob or a shot. Gilgeous-Alexander said it was a lob.
“I looked at the replay,” Killeya-Jones said. “It was close. But, hey, it counts as a dunk. So it was a dunk.”
This year’s SEC Tournament finals could be history in the unmaking. Only twice has a SEC opponent swept three games against Kentucky: Florida in 2014 and Tennessee in 1979.
Tennessee won the two regular-season games against UK: 76-65 in Knoxville and 61-59 in Lexington.
Schofield subscribed to the conventional wisdom that it’s hard to beat a team three times.
“Because you’ve played them twice,” he said. “They know you as well as you know yourself. So there’s nothing new we can throw at them. It’s just going to come down to who wants it more.”