After a 71-60 victory over a scrappy Georgia Bulldogs team, the No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats will face the Alabama Crimson Tide tomorrow in the SEC semifinals at 1 pm ET. Here’s three things that the Cats need to take care of to successfully topple Bama.
Over the past two games, Malik Monk has scored a combined 8 points. In UK’s regular-season finale at Texas A&M, Monk scored a season-low 6 points on 2-10 shooting. It was the first time all season that Monk did not score in double figures during a game. In the quarterfinal game against Georgia, Malik was a nonfactor again, scoring just two points, a new season-low. While it’s impressive that the Cats have continued to be able to win games without his scoring, there’s no doubt that Kentucky is a far better team when he is an offensive threat. If UK wants to make any sort of run in the postseason, it is imperative that Monk get back on track offensively. Frankly, you can’t help but think Monk has another big game looming on the horizon. And if that’s true, pity the team standing opposite Kentucky.
On paper, this Alabama team doesn’t look overly impressive. Their leading scorer is Braxton Key, a 6’8” freshman who averages just 12.0 points per game. Other than Key, Bama only has one other player averaging in double figures. Compared to Kentucky, it might seem like this should be a walk in the park. Make no mistake, though, this is a very scrappy ball club. Alabama is the top rebounding team in the SEC, and has defeated South Carolina twice after an 11-point victory in the SEC quarterfinals on Friday. While Kentucky will be highly favored in Saturday’s game, it’s important that the Cats maintain their focus, and not think about a potential matchup with the Vanderbilt Commodores or Arkansas Razorbacks in Sunday’s championship game.
We’ve asked for it all year, and the Cats are finally starting to deliver. Over the past eight games, Kentucky is holding opponents to just 63.8 points on 40.3% shooting. Head coach John Calipari said in his postgame conference after the game against Georgia that defense is the key to making a deep run in the postseason. “But at the end of the day, it’s how hard can we make it on the other team to score.” If Kentucky wants to defeat Alabama and have a shot at an SEC championship, they have to continue bringing the same level of defensive intensity that we’ve seen from them over the past month. If UK can keep Bama out of the paint and keep their rebounding to a minimum, they should be in good shape to advance to Sunday’s game.
A win Saturday would give the Cats an opportunity to win their third straight SEC Championship, where they would face the winner of Arkansas/Vanderbilt on Sunday afternoon. If UK can successfully carry out these three “keys to the game”, they should have no problem rolling over the Tide.