EditorsNote: Updated to add Tennessee as next opponent
Sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel made a career-best seven 3-pointers without a miss and matched his career high of 23 points as Kentucky posted a 86-63 victory over Alabama on Saturday in the SEC tournament semifinals at St. Louis to advance to the championship game.
Freshman guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander added 19 points and eight assists for the fourth-seeded Wildcats, who improve to 42-2 in the SEC semifinals and will be in the title game for the fifth straight season. Freshman forward PJ Washington added 14 points and freshman forward Kevin Knox had 11 as Kentucky (23-10) was 12 of 18 from long range and shot 64.3 percent from the field.
The Wildcats shot 84.2 percent in the second half while making 8 of 9 3-point attempts with Gabriel leading the way.
“I just let it go and I just knew it was going in,” Gabriel said of his lava-like 3-point shooting during a postgame interview on ESPN. “It was like the ocean. It was like throwing a rock going into the ocean.”
Freshman point guard Collin Sexton scored 21 points for the ninth-seeded Crimson Tide (19-15). Freshman guard John Petty had 18 points for Alabama, which shot just 37.9 percent from the field.
The Crimson Tide were without junior power forward Donta Hall (concussion) for the second straight contest. Hall is Alabama’s second-leading scorer and its top rebounder and shot-blocker.
Kentucky will face Tennessee in Sunday’s conference title game. The Volunteers won both meetings with the Wildcats in the regular season.
The Crimson Tide will wait to see if they receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats led by 10 points at halftime and scored the first four points of the second half to make it 33-19. Two-plus minutes later, Gabriel knocked down a 3-pointer to make it 40-23 with 16:37 left.
Alabama received two 3-pointers from Petty during a 9-2 push to cut Kentucky’s lead to 61-50 with 6:39 left.
Gabriel sank his sixth 3-pointer 24 seconds later to temporarily halt the Crimson Tide’s charge. Alabama moved within nine on a three-point play by Petty with 5:57 remaining and Gabriel again answered by knocking down his seventh 3-pointer.
The lead reached 76-58 on two free throws by Gilgeous-Alexander with 2:29 left as the Wildcats closed it out.
Kentucky finished the first half with an 11-3 run to take a 29-19 lead into the break.
Petty banked in a 3-pointer for the Crimson Tide’s lone points over the final 6:57 and Gabriel answered with a 3-pointer of his own 21 seconds later to give the Wildcats a 28-19 with 2:09 to play.
—Field Level Media