BOZICH | Defense, Wenyen Gabriel push Kentucky past Alabama, 86- - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Defense, Wenyen Gabriel push Kentucky past Alabama, 86-63, into SEC final

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John Calipari's Kentucky team has rolled through its first two SEC Tournament games with outstanding defense. John Calipari's Kentucky team has rolled through its first two SEC Tournament games with outstanding defense.

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (WDRB) – I do not believe John Calipari has been studying Tony Bennett Defensive Philosophy 101 videos. I do believe than Wenyen Gabriel has been watching Steph Curry Shooting videos.

Stay with me.

Kentucky is one victory from winning its fourth consecutive Southeastern Conference basketball tournament, and the Wildcats are defending, flexing and controlling the tempo with poise that Bennett and his Virginia followers would applaud.

A day after Kentucky limited Georgia to a season-low 49 points, the Wildcats frustrated Alabama Saturday in the tournament semifinals at the Scottrade Center.

Make it Kentucky 86, Alabama 63. The Crimson Tide made less than less than 38 percent of their field goal attempts, averaging 0.969 points per possession.

Put the Wildcats in the Sunday championship game against the winner of the Arkansas-Tennessee semifinal.

Kentucky won for the second consecutive game without forward Jarred Vanderbilt, who remained on the bench with an ankle injury.

No Vanderbilt? No problem. Gabriel delivered a career game for Calipari against the Crimson Tide, scoring 23 points on only eight field goal attempts in 25 spectacular minutes.

Gabriel shot the ball like a guy who could beat Curry, Larry Bird or Devin Booker at H-O-R-S-E. Gabriel launched his first five shots from distance and made five.

After the fifth one splashed through the nets from the left corner, Gabriel laughed and back-pedaled down the court as the 12,000 or so UK fans in the building stood and roared. (Teaser alert: Gabriel was just getting warmed up.)

But back to the Kentucky defense. That was the tone-setter for this game.

Georgia could not score against the Wildcats Friday. The Kentucky defense forced SEC player of the Year Yante Maten to miss eight of 10 shots. The Bulldogs made less than 29 percent of their attempts (the final act that led to the dismissal of coach Mark Fox Saturday).Alabama also labored to score, especially over the first 25 minutes. The Crimson Tide shot less than 31 percent in the first half as Kentucky pushed to a 29-19 lead.

Maybe Bama coach Avery Johnson knew the necessary halftime adjustments.

Nope. Kentucky outscored the Alabama 11-4 to start the second half as the Crimson Tide missed five of their first six shots.

John Petty, an Alabama freshman guard that Calipari tried to recruit, ignited the Crimson Tide during a rally late in the second half with four of his five three pointers. Collin Sexton delivered a three-point play with 6:39 left to cut Kentucky’s lead to 61-50.

Guess what?

Gabriel countered with his sixth and seventh threes – and Kentucky’s lead was never less than nine. Three other UK players -- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (19), P.J. Washington (14) and Kevin Knox (11) -- scored double figures.

Collin Sexton, the SEC's top freshman, scored 21, but missed 8 of 14 shots, finishing with as many turnovers (3) as assists.

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