If Kentucky is an accurate indicator, age has nothing to do with performance at the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Freshman John Wall, the conference player of the year, and junior Patrick Patterson combined to score well over half their team’s points in a 73-67 win over Alabama in the first of Friday’s four quarterfinals at Bridgestone Arena.
“I love my team,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “(I) still think I have a team that can do whatever they want in this tournament and in the next tournament. You've got to grow up, and you've got to get more mature. The leadership of the team has got to grab a couple of guys and get them to do the right things.”
Wall had 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists and was the impetus for a surge that put the Wildcats (30-2) ahead to stay. He scored the first seven points and 11 total in a 19-5 second-half run that turned a four-point deficit into a 10-point advantage (55-45) with just under 10 minutes remaining.
Patterson was a steadying force in the early stages of the contest as he scored six of UK’s first eight. He then punctuated the performance with a pair of dunks in the final three minutes, both after the Crimson Tide (17-15) had closed to within three points, and finished with 20 points.
“Basically Coach told me make a couple of plays,” Wall said. “They told me the whole game to push it in transition, but I wasn't getting there … Second half, I found the gaps and got into the lane.”
Alabama led for much of the first half and, in fact, had the largest advantage of the contest (11 points) when Mikhail Torrance scored four points in 30 seconds and made it 26-15 with 7:15 to go before intermission.
Torrance, a senior, led the Tide with 20 points but was held to one second-half field goal in six attempts. Freshman Tony Mitchell added 10 points – all in the second half – and 12 rebounds.
“I think when you look at (Kentucky’s) record in our league (and) their record overall, I think it speaks for itself,” Alabama coach Bruce Pearl said. “All th credit goes to them. They made the plays they had to make to win the game.”
Kentucky will play either Tennessee, which defeated Ole Miss later in the day, at noon Saturday.