John Clay

After locking down Georgia, can Kentucky put the clamps on Collin Sexton?

What must Kentucky do to stop Collin Sexton?

Alabama guard Collin Sexton made the winning shot Thursday and scored 31 points Friday. Can Kentucky stop him on Saturday in the SEC Tournament?
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Alabama guard Collin Sexton made the winning shot Thursday and scored 31 points Friday. Can Kentucky stop him on Saturday in the SEC Tournament?

Having locked down one Southeastern Conference scoring star, can Kentucky now bottle up another?

The Cats did it with defense on Friday, limiting Georgia forward Yante Maten, the AP’s SEC Player of the Year, to just two field goals and nine points on the way to a 62-49 victory in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament.

It wasn’t just Maten. As a team, Georgia shot just 28.3 percent from the floor, the lowest percentage by a UK opponent since Stony Brook’s meager 26.3 against John Calipari’s Cats in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

Facing a collapsing double-team every time he took a dribble in the post, Maten ended up making just two of 10 shots, scoring in single figures for the first time since way back on Jan. 10.

“I thought we did a great job following the game plan,” UK forward Kevin Knox said.

But now with Saturday’s semifinal matchup against Alabama, now comes Collin Sexton.

“Yeah,” said Knox, “he’s a really good player.”

ukmatensec
Georgia forward Yante Maten (1) and Kentucky forward Kevin Knox (5) battled for the ball during the SEC Tournament quarterfinals Friday at the Scottrade Center. Kentucky beat Georgia 62-49 to advance to a Saturday semifinal game against Alabama. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

That’s an understatement. The Crimson Tide’s slashing, dashing thrill ride of a point guard is a really good player who is having a ridiculous SEC Tournament.

Thursday afternoon, in the Tide’s second-round game against Texas A&M, the (maybe) 6-foot-3 freshman took the ball the length of the floor in 4.4 seconds for a finger-roll layup that gave Alabama a heart-stopping 71-70 victory over the Aggies.

Friday, Sexton followed that 27-point performance with 21 second-half points, 31 for the game, as Avery Johnson’s club rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit to crush top-seeded Auburn 81-63.

“Sexton is a tremendous, tremendous individual player,” Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl afterward.

PJ Washington scored 18 points to help send Kentucky to the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament with a 62-49 win over Georgia.

Without the services of Jarred Vanderbilt (ankle injury), Kentucky needed some increased production from several individuals to compensate for the loss of the freshman forward’s energy and skilled boardwork.

The Cats got just that, thanks to 18 points and seven rebounds from forward PJ Washington, 15 points and nine rebounds from Knox, six rebounds from Wenyen Gabriel and 11 solid minutes from the rarely-used Sacha Killeya-Jones.

And yet the Cats advanced more on their work at the defensive end. This is March, after all. And while Georgia is hardly an offensive juggernaut, Friday was arguably Kentucky’s best defensive game of the season.

“It was their third game in three days,” said Calipari of the Bulldogs. “Our whole thing was let’s get into their legs. Let’s pressure them.”

Teshaun Hightower, the freshman guard who jumped up and scored 13 points in each of Georgia’s two previous wins, missed all six of his shots. William “Turtle” Jackson was 2-for-12 as the Bulldogs scored the fewest points by a UK opponent since Michigan State’s 46 in last season’s Champions Classic.

Sexton, however, is another matter entirely. Unlike Maten, the Mableton, Ga., native has the ball in his hands. He can control the tempo. Plus, he’s fast, quick and creative.

With 8:14 left Friday, Sexton somehow hit a how-did-he-do-that leaner while being fouled by Auburn’s Bryce Brown, who reacted by throwing his hands in the air. Sexton hit the free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play and a 66-48 lead.

“(They told me) he went crazy, went off,” said Calipari, adding, “And I know how good he is.”

Knox knows, too. He shared the coaches’ SEC Freshman of the Year honor with Sexton. Sexton was also voted the media’s SEC Freshman of the Year.

“He likes to really fast break and get in the lane,” Knox said. “We’ve just got to make sure we create a wall and make sure we stop him from getting inside the lane.”

Feb. 17, when the Cats beat the Tide 81-71 in Rupp, Sexton managed just 12 points, making four of 11 shots. That was then, however. This is now when Alabama, after ending the season on a five-game losing streak, is fighting for its NCAA Tournament life.

“He breeds confidence in our team,” Johnson said.

Friday, Kentucky stopped arguably the best player in the SEC regular season. Now the Cats have to stop the best player in the SEC Tournament. So far.

Kentucky forward Kevin Knox after the Wildcats’ 62-49 win over Georgia in the SEC Tournament.

Kentucky players talk about limiting Georgia forward Yante Maten, the AP SEC Player of the Year, to just nine points in UK’s 62-49 win.

Kentucky men’s basketball 2017-18

Date

Opponent

UK

Opp

Dec

Rec

SEC

11/10/17

Utah Valley

73

63

W

1-0

11/12/17

Vermont

73

69

W

2-0

11/14/17

vs Kansas (Chicago)

61

65

L

2-1

11/17/17

East Tennessee

78

61

W

3-1

11/20/17

Troy

70

62

W

4-1

11/22/17

Fort Wayne

86

67

W

5-1

11/26/17

UIC

107

73

W

6-1

12/2/17

Harvard

79

70

W

7-1

12/9/17

vs Monmouth (New York)

93

76

W

8-1

12/16/17

Virginia Tech

93

86

W

9-1

12/23/17

vs UCLA (New Orleans)

75

83

L

9-2

12/29/17

Louisville

90

61

W

10-2

12/31/17

Georgia

66

61

W

11-2

1-0

1/3/18

@LSU

74

71

W

12-2

2-0

1/6/18

@Tennessee

65

76

L

12-3

2-1

1/9/18

Texas A&M

74

73

W

13-3

3-1

1/13/18

@Vanderbilt

74

67

W

14-3

4-1

1/16/18

@S Carolina

68

76

L

14-4

4-2

1/20/18

Florida

64

66

L

14-5

4-3

1/23/18

Mississippi St

78

65

W

15-5

5-3

1/27/18

@West Virginia

83

76

W

16-5

1/30/18

Vanderbilt

83

81

W*

17-5

6-3

2/3/18

@Missouri

60

69

L

17-6

6-4

2/6/18

Tennessee

59

61

L

17-7

6-5

2/10/18

@Texas A&M

74

85

L

17-8

6-6

2/14/18

@Auburn

66

76

L

17-9

6-7

2/17/18

Alabama

81

71

W

18-9

7-7

2/20/18

@Arkansas

87

72

W

19-9

8-7

2/24/18

Missouri

87

66

W

20-9

9-7

2/28/18

Ole Miss

96

78

W

21-9

10-7

3/3/18

@Florida

67

80

L

21-10

10-8

3/9/18

vs Georgia (SEC)

62

49

W

22-10

3/10/18

vs Alabama (SEC)

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