Title Game about More Than UK-A&M Rematch

Walking around the locker room following a Kentucky win in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals, you heard mixed messages.

Kentucky vs. Texas A&M
Sun., March 13 - 1 p.m. ET
Bridgestone Arena
Nashville, Tenn.
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UK 2015-16 Team Stats A&M
25-8 Record 26-7
.478 FG% .450
.399 Opp FG% .403
.369 3FG% .353
.684 FT% .673
79.6 PPG 75.9
38.9 RPG 38.8
5.6 BPG 3.8
14.5 APG 17.1
5.5 SPG 7.0
Some players were eager for the chance to avenge a regular-season loss to Texas A&M and unafraid to say it.

“They beat us earlier in the year,” Tyler Ulis said. “Very close game, it came down to the end of the game. We can’t wait to get another shot at them.”

Some were more measured, but excited nonetheless about the SEC Tournament championship-game rematch between the two league co-champions at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.

“We're just going to come out prepared and come out confident and focused, and our team is ready to play,” Jamal Murray said. “Playing against them before, we're going to come out fiery and hopefully on top.”

Others dismissed the idea of the Wildcats (25-8) having any extra motivation at all based on the top-seeded and 17th-ranked Aggies (26-7) emerging from the other side of the bracket in Bridgestone Arena.

“It’s another game,” Marcus Lee said. “We’re not really worried about who we’re playing. We’re just trying to get to the next game and just keep on battling.”

Given the way the first UK-A&M game ended, Isaac Humphries deserves the final word on the matter. The freshman center was responsible for the spiked-ball technical foul on which the game in College Station, Texas, ended after all.

“It will be the same as it was. It was just an unfortunate circumstance that happened, but I’m not going to go out and be like, ‘I got a dead foul, I must play well,’ ” Humphries said. “Like, no, I’m just going to do what we always – we’re just going to do what we always do.”

The one thing everyone agrees on is that both teams will be in for a stiff test.

“I would expect another battle,” A&M’s Jalen Jones said. “Those guys are very well coached and they have a lot of heart and they play with a lot of passion.”

“It’s gonna be a war coming in tomorrow,” Alex Poythress said. “That’s really what it’s going to be tomorrow so we’re looking forward to it.”

Poythress was injured the first time around against A&M and the Cats keenly felt his absence. The Aggies punished UK inside, holding a 34-24 edge in paint scoring and grabbing 20 offensive rebounds. But now, Kentucky has gotten healthy and come into its own in the post, progress that was plain to see as the Cats came on strong in the second half against Georgia in a 93-80 win. 

“The attitude was great,” Poythress said. “We’re built for this. We needed a tough game like this that we had to go back and forth, down a little bit, a little adversity. I felt like we responded real well.”

Some adversity figures to lie ahead for the Cats, no matter how well they play. Texas A&M is coming off an utterly dominant semifinal win over LSU. The Aggies took on a Tiger squad playing for its NCAA Tournament life and held LSU to 0.55 points per possession in a 71-38 victory.

The Aggies – like the Cats – long ago locked up their NCAA Tournament berth, meaning both teams know they will hear their names called on Selection Sunday regardless of Sunday’s outcome. It’s that fact that defines Calipari’s motivation.

“When you're in this tournament -- and you guys know, I've said it over and over,” Calipari said. “I'm not a big fan of three games in three days. I don't think it does anything for your team. But if we have to play tomorrow, we might as well try to win it now. But it prepares you for next weekend, and that's what I want to use these games for.”

Wildcats Turn Back Solid Effort from Georgia to Advance to Title Game

Georgia gave Kentucky everything it could handle in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals, including a first-half double-digit lead. But, for the first time this season when falling behind by double digits, UK was able to answer the bell and win.

Behind another 20-point game from Jamal Murray, his 12th straight game with 20 or more points (only Dan Isseel in 1969-70 has a longer streak at 18 games), and Tyler Ulis' school-record 13th game with at least 20 points and at least five assists, the Wildcats took Georgia's best shot and still won 93-80 in front of 19,108 mainly blue-clad fans in Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.

Murray continued his efficient ways of late with an 8-for-12 shooting night and three more 3-pointers. He passed Brandon Knight for the most points by a freshman in school history while breaking Tony Delk's program record for most consecutive games with a 3-pointer.

The freshman from Kitchener, Ontario had 19 first-half points, but Georgia seeminly made everything in the first half or capitalized on second-chance opportunities, scoring 49 points before halftime, the most UK has surrendered in the first half this season.

Murray got help in the second half as a host of Wildcats, including Ulis, Derek Willis, Isaiah Briscoe and Alex Poythress. Ulis scored 13 after halftime, Willis tallied nine, and Poythress and Briscoe had eight after intermission.

Trailing 67-63 with 10 minutes remaining, UK scored on eight straight possessions for an 81-72 lead. UK outscored Georgia 30-13 after falling behind 67-63.

The Wildcats advanced to the SEC Tournament championship game for the sixth time under John Calipari and will meet the Texas A&M Aggies, who Kentucky tied for the regular-season title.

Other noteables:

• Kentucky improved to 126-25 (.834) all-time in the SEC Tournament, including 40-2 (.952) in semifinals games
• UK is 19-2 (.905) in SEC Tournament games played in Nashville, including 16-2 (.889) in Bridgestone Arena
• It marked Murray’s 31st consecutive double-figure scoring game, the most since Jodie Meeks had a 32-game double-figure stretch in 2008-09
• Poythress scored 10 points and has scored double figures in five of six games since returning from injury

Wildcats in the SEC Tournament Championship Game

For the third consecutive season, the Wildcats will play in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game on Sunday. The Wildcats will take on Texas A&M at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN. UK is 29-10 all-time in the championship game, including 3-2 under head coach John Calipari.

The two teams tied for the regular-season title with 13-5 records, though Texas A&M claimed the No. 1 seed in the tournament with a victory in the lone matchup of the two teams this season, in College Station, Texas. The two teams have never met in the SEC Tournament.

UK leads the league with 28 SEC Tournament titles, including three under Calipari and last year’s championship. The Wildcats are 126-25 (.834) all-time in the SEC Tournament.

In the lone meeting in the regular season, Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray combined for 43 points. Freshman forward Isaac Humphries had arguably the best game of his young career with a career-high six points and a career-high 12 rebounds.