USA Today/Christopher Hanewinckel

De'Aaron Fox takes over down the stretch, leads Kentucky Wildcats past Alabama

Cats outlast Crimson Tide 79-74, advance to SEC Tournament championship game.

De'Aaron Fox showed Saturday why he's one of college basketball's most dangerous closers.

Kentucky's freshman point guard scored nine straight points late in a hotly contested matchup with Alabama to lead the Wildcats to a 79-74 victory in the SEC Tournament semifinals at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

With No. 8 Kentucky clinging to a 62-61 lead at the five-minute mark, Fox scored 12 of his team's final 17 points and finished with a career-high 28 to send the Cats to the championship game on Sunday against Arkansas.

"De'Aaron Fox played really well at the end," UK head coach John Calipari said. "... He's playing tougher. He's getting bumped and still making them." 

"Fox is an electric player," said Alabama guard Corban Collins. "He can come down hill with a full (head of steam). With that type of speed coming at you, it's difficult to guard."

The Cats also got 20 points from freshman guard Malik Monk, who rediscovered his shooting touch after a pair of rough outings against Texas A&M and Georgia. He had a career-low two points on Friday against the Bulldogs.

Freshman center Bam Adebayo added 10 points and nine rebounds for UK, which shot 52 percent (23 of 44) from the field to overcome some of its shortcomings on the day.

Kentucky (28-5) left an opening with shaky free-throw shooting for most of the game, but closed by making 10 of its last 12. Fox was 11-for-15 at the line. 

Upset-minded Alabama (19-14) played like a team desperate to make a final push into the NCAA Tournament field, leading by as much as 10 in the first half, but UK used a 17-3 run to regain control of the game. Five different Cats scored during the key spurt.

The Tide shot a respectable 45 percent from the field and outrebounded the Cats 33-28. They got 17 points from Dazon Ingram and 11 points from Braxton Key.

"We had a tough second half," Alabama head coach Avery Johnson said. "We battled, we fought. We put on our hard hat and came to play... Give Kentucky credit. They made some big shots."

https://twitter.com/SECNetwork/status/840650334225743874

In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from the game...     

WHAT WE LIKED:

Like it has done repeatedly in the second half of the conference schedule, Kentucky displayed the ability to maintain its composure after falling behind by double digits. This marked the fourth time in the last five games that UK has trailed by 10 or more points, and the Cats have won all of them. It's not a blueprint that the Big Blue wants to lean on heavily when the NCAA Tournament begins, but it speaks highly of their ability to avoid panic when the game doesn't unfold in an ideal manner.  

GAME BALL:

De'Aaron Fox, Kentucky -- An easy choice today. After scoring 48 points in UK's first two games in Nashville, Fox is well on his way to being the tourney MVP if he can close it out with another good performance in the championship game. His ability to attack off the bounce late in games gives the Cats a dynamic that few other teams will possess during March Madness, and when he's hitting the jumper like he has of late, he's almost impossible to defend. 

BY THE NUMBERS:

1st - Back to back 20-point games for Fox since Jan. 7 and Jan 10 against Arkansas and Vanderbilt. 

6 of 11 - 3-point shooting by Fox over the last five games. 

7-0 - Kentucky record with starting lineup of Fox, Monk, Briscoe, Willis, Adebayo.

10 - Game winning streak for UK, its longest of the season. 

18th - 20-point game of the season for Monk. 

41-2 - Kentucky's all-time record in the SEC Tourney semifinals.

QUOTABLE:

"I love our will to win, but there are things that we've got to be more consistent on." -- UK head coach John Calipari.

UP NEXT:

Kentucky returns to action on Sunday in the SEC championship game against Arkansas (25-8) which claimed a 76-62 win over Vanderbilt in Saturday's other semifinal game. The Cats defeated the Razorbacks 97-71 on Jan. 7 at Rupp Arena.


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