Gabriel, Kentucky use 3-point barrage to beat Alabama 86-63
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Collin Sexton and Alabama were making another push in the second half, cutting Kentucky’s big lead down to nine with 5:15 remaining.
But when Wenyen Gabriel knocked down his seventh 3-pointer on the next possession, the Wildcats were on their way.
Gabriel whipped up his hands, prompting a thundering “Go Big Blue” chant from the thousands of Kentucky fans at Scottrade Center. His teammates were shoving him around as he repeatedly tossed up three fingers.
Gabriel shot 7-for-7 on 3s and matched his career high with 23 points, sending Kentucky past Alabama 86-63 Saturday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals.
“I think I was in the zone after probably my third 3,” Gabriel said. “I’ve had a game like that before. Obviously, not in a Kentucky uniform yet. That was great to have one of these today for my confidence going forward.”
The fourth-seeded Wildcats (23-10) advanced to play second-seeded Tennessee on Sunday in the championship game.
Kentucky shot 64 percent from the field, up from its 42.6 percent clip against Georgia on Friday and its season average of 46.5. The Wildcats dominated on the defensive end as well, using its unmatched length to body up ninth-seeded Alabama (19-15) all game.
Sexton, who beat Texas A&M with a last-second shot on Thursday and then led a second-half charge to beat Auburn on Friday, scored 21 points on 6-for-14 shooting. John Petty added 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting.
“It did take a little toll on us, three games back-to-back versus three great teams,” Petty said.
The Tide simply couldn’t stop the Wildcats, especially from long range. Kentucky shot 12 of 18 on 3s and compiled 20 assists.
“It’s probably not sustainable, but let me say this: The people that have watched this, do we rely on 3-point shots to win?” coach John Calipari asked. “We don’t. If we make — wow, we made 12, then we’re probably going to win by 20.”
Alabama: Playing three games in three days definitely looked to have fatigued the Crimson Tide early. Alabama still might have played itself into the NCAA Tournament with its runaway victory over No. 16 Auburn.
Kentucky: The Wildcats are tall, fast and playing in front of a sea of blue. They look solid on the defensive end and when they’re shooting above 60 percent, they’re one of the scariest teams in the country.
The Crimson Tide looked slow out of the gates, and Alabama coach Avery Johnson acknowledged that after the contest.
“Not making the excuse, we just didn’t have the energy in the first half like we normally have,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if it’s because we played three in a row. We’re a pretty well-conditioned team, but it just took us a while to get in gear today.”
Alabama forward Donta Hall was ruled out with a concussion, and the Tide certainly missed his minutes against the Wildcats. Hall averaged 10.9 points per game and led the team with 6.8 rebounds per game heading into Saturday.
“Without him, it’s pretty tough,” Sexton said. “I feel like he helps both ends of the floor. When he gets the rebounds, he throws it to us and runs the floor.”
Johnson said after the game that Hall is in concussion protocol and his status is day-to-day.
Alabama will wait until Sunday to find out its postseason fate.
Kentucky plays in the SEC title game for the automatic bid to the NCAAs. Tennessee has already defeated the Wildcats twice this season, a 76-65 win in Knoxville on Jan. 6 and a 61-59 victory at Rupp Arena last month.