Making amends for a regular-season defeat. Encouraging signs that all is well as Reid Travis returned to active duty. Making due without big offensive nights by PJ Washington and Keldon Johnson.
Even with a game marred by plenty of chaotic action, Kentucky’s 73-55 victory over Alabama on Friday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinals inspired more than one “Go Big Blue” chant.
In defeating Alabama for a 12th straight time in SEC Tournament play, Kentucky (27-5) advanced to Saturday afternoon’s second semifinal game. UK will play the winner of Friday night’s late game between Tennessee and Mississippi State.
Washington shook off 4-for-12 shooting and posted a double-double (10 points and 12 rebounds). Johnson made only one of seven shots and scored four points. The only game he scored fewer points came in a scoreless performance at Georgia.
Tyler Herro led Kentucky with 20 points. Immanuel Quickley chipped in 12.
Alabama, which beat UK 77-75 on the opening weekend of the SEC regular-season schedule, failed to get the win it sought to bolster a case for an NCAA Tournament bid. The Tide’s record fell to 18-15.
Alex Reese led Alabama with 15 points. Tevin Mack, who scored 22 points and made a career-high six three-pointers in Alabama’s regular-season victory over Kentucky, was scoreless. He missed all seven of his shots (two from three-point range).
Chaotic seemed a kind way to describe the first half. Bridgestone Arena, the home of the Nashville Predators, was a fitting site. Repeatedly, it appeared the game was being played on ice.
There was no high sticking, but the spirited play by both teams made misconduct penalties a possibility if he had been hockey.
For instance, Herbert Jones decked Herro rather than concede a fast-break layup or dunk with 15:35 left in the first half. After a quick review, a flagrant 1 foul was called.
Kentucky led 39-29 at halftime. The Cats led by as much as 26-11, so a 10-point deficit at the break was good news for Alabama. The Tide missed 15 of their first 20 shots and committed seven turnovers in the half.
Kentucky took the lead for good on Johnson’s fast-break layup with 14:06 left.
Highlights for UK included Travis’ return to action for the first time since spraining his right knee at Missouri on Feb. 19. He entered the game at the 17:23 mark. He exited with two fouls at the 7:28 mark. He did not score, but grabbed one rebound and blocked three shots. The three blocks (in seven minutes) equaled a career high.
Travis finished with eight points and seven rebounds.
When it appeared Kentucky might deliver a first-half knockout, Alabama rallied. Alex Reese hit back-to-back three-pointers that helped the Tide get as close as 33-27 down the stretch.
Alabama rallied from a 38-24 halftime deficit against Ole Miss to win a second-round game Thursday. That marked only the second victory in 12 games the Tide had trailed at halftime this season.
Aside from Travis scoring, not a lot changed in the second half. Travis scored his first points on a putback of a Washington miss with 19:11 left.
Reese kept Alabama relatively close. His three-pointer with 15:20 left reduced UK’s lead to 47-36. At that point, he had made six of eight shots (three of four from three-point range). The latter equaled his career high.
But Alabama never reduced Kentucky’s lead to single digits.
As if to give the game a sour ending for UK fans, the referees disallowed a put-back lay-in by EJ Montgomery seconds before the final television timeout. The call of basket interference sparked booing and derogatory shouts from fans. It might also have evoked memory of Kavell Bigly-Williams’ winning tip-in for LSU against Kentucky on Feb. 12 that replays showed could have been basket interference.
About 3:30 p.m.: Kentucky vs. Tennessee in semifinals in Nashville (ESPN)