The rubber match lived up to the hype and then some.
After Kentucky and Tennessee traded blowouts on their home floor during the regular season, we finally got the instant classic we all were waiting for in the semifinals of the SEC tournament. Grant Williams scored eight of his 20 points and Tennessee, who had missed their first eight threes of the second half, made three straight in an 18-4 run to close out an 82-78 come-from-behind thriller in Nashville.
While it was Williams that sparked the run, he was not the only guy on the roster that made big shots and big plays. Admiral Schofield hit a big three that was assisted by Jordan Bone. Williams’ three was also assisted by Bone, who hit four free throws in the final seconds to ice the game. And it was Lamonte Turner that buried a three with 30 seconds left — after a monster offensive rebound from Williams — that put Tennessee up 78-76
With the win, the Volunteers will advance to take on Auburn in the SEC tournament title game on Sunday afternoon.
More importantly, they take a step closer to being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament tomorrow when the brackets are released.
The way the latest NBC Sports bracket projection shook out entering Saturday was that the Wildcats were the No. 1 seed in the midwest while Tennessee was stuck in Duke’s region as the No. 2 seed in the south. This win — and a potential Tennessee win over Auburn in the title game — could end up changing that calculus.
And while it ends any hope of Kentucky vaulting past the Blue Devils to take over the No. 1 seed in the south, which would send them to Louisville for the regional final, it may not be all bad. Kentucky may end up being the No. 2 seed in Louisville, and that would set up an unbelievable rematch of the Champions Classic headline game, only this time in front of a raucous stable of Big Blue fans in the Yum! Center.
Because when it comes down to it, what we saw on Saturday afternoon was two of the six best teams in the country. We can debate whether or not Tennessee is better than Kentucky, or Gonzaga, or North Carolina. We are all going to have opinions about just how good Duke actually is and whether or not Virginia belongs in that conversation as well.
But the fact of the matter is that all six of those teams are among the nation’s elite, and I know I am not the only one that is sitting here hoping that we get some combination of that group in the Final Four.
And if it ends up being a fourth interation of Kentucky-Tennessee in Minneapolis, I, for one, would be thrilled.