Three Quick Takeaways: Tennessee Outlasts Kentucky To Advance To SEC Tournament Title

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    Calvin Ridley Loves Parlays

    TAMPA, Fla — Tennessee led nearly wire-to-wire on Saturday afternoon against Kentucky, surviving a late Wildcat push to advance to the SEC Tournament Finals.

    Here’s three quick takeaways.

    Vols Bring The Physicality Inside

    Kentucky center Oscar Tshiebwe is one of the best players in the country and on paper is a matchup nightmare for a Tennessee team that lacks consistent front court play.

    However, for the second straight matchup Tennessee brought the physicality needed to keep the SEC Player of the Year at bay.

    It happened from the jump on Saturday when Tennessee center Uros Plavsic grabbed four rebounds before Tshiebwe even grabbed one. The Vols kept going at the star center and it paid off as Tshiebwe picked up his second foul with 11:32 left in the first half and spent the remainder of the half on the bench.

    Kentucky came out for the second half and made it a clear emphasis to get the big fella the ball. Tshiebwe had success totaling 11 second half points and 10 rebounds, but Tennessee made him work hard for every one of them.

    John Fulkerson drew back-to-back fouls on the big man late in the game to foul him out.

    Five-Star Freshmen Play Like It

    Tennessee has a pair of five-star freshmen this season. Kennedy Chandler has played like one all season, earning Second Team All-SEC honors. Brandon Huntley-Hatfield — who graduated high school a year early — has not always looked like it. The power forward has had his moments but consistency hasn’t been a theme.

    Both players performed like their were five-stars in front of their name against the Wildcats.

    Zakai Zeigler struggled to get going offensively putting a lot of pressure on Chandler to step up to the moment.

    Chandler did just that, controlling the pace of the game and giving Kentucky point guard Sahvir Wheeler fits off the dribble. Whenever Tennessee needed a basket, Chandler seemed to deliver. The Memphis native recorded 19 points and two assists.

    For the first time this year, Huntley-Hatfield stacked strong performances together following up his strong showing against Mississippi State with one of his best games of the year.

    The 6-foot-10 power forward was dynamic on the offensive end scoring eight points while grabbing six rebounds.

    Chandler was the best player on the court Saturday and Huntley-Hatfield was the Vols’ best big man.

    Vols Survive Late Push

    We’ve seen Tennessee struggle to close games with ease against top 20 opponents over the past few weeks and that was the case again Saturday.

    Turnovers, missed free throws and quick Kentucky possessions allowed the Wildcats to claw back in the game, turning a nine point deficit to a three-point deficit in 1:01 in the game’s final three minutes.

    That’s when Santiago Vescovi may have made the play of the game. For what seemed like the first time all game, Chandler didn’t deliver in a big moment, failing to shake his defender before missing a midrange jumper as the shot clock expired.

    Vescovi came flying in grabbed the rebound and drew a foul. The lefty only went one-of-two at the line, but the Vols lead was once again two possessions.

    Tennessee’s defense snapped back into gear and Kentucky wouldn’t score again.

    Ryan Schumpert is a senior at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since the moment he stepped on campus. He just completed a three-year stint with the Daily Beacon, the last two of which as the Sports Editor. Ryan also spent last three years at Volquest providing strong Tennessee baseball coverage of Tony Vitello's resurgent program. While the bulk of Ryan's responsibilities involved beat coverage and writing, he also recorded podcasts for both the Beacon and Volquest. Did we leave out the part about Ryan interning for the Smokies? Ryan's work ethic, versatility, and strong writing skills are but three of the reasons why Vol Nation will be hearing from Ryan for years to come.