Nashville, TN (SportsNetwork.com) - The Kentucky Wildcats continue to steamroll opponents and now the top-ranked program is aiming to take down the 21st-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks as the two squads vie for the SEC Tournament title at Bridgestone Arena on Sunday afternoon.
Top-seeded Kentucky, which has already won a mind-blowing 26 tournament titles according to team sources, demolished an under-manned Auburn squad on Saturday in the tournament semifinals by a final of 91-67. The victory came a day after the Wildcats also dismissed Florida in the quarterfinals, 64-49.
The Wildcats remain the only undefeated program in men's basketball and at 33-0 just broke the school's all-time win streak of 32 straight, which was set between Dec. 5, 1953 and Jan. 8, 1955.
Kentucky played in the championship game last season but lost to Florida by a single point, 61-60, and is trying to get back into the win column for the first time since taking down that same Gators squad in 2011 by a 70-54 score.
As for the second-seeded Razorbacks, their road to the championship round was built on an 80-72 victory against 10th-seeded Tennessee two days ago and a 60-49 win versus third-seeded Georgia in the semis on Saturday. While the Wildcats have dominated this event over the years, winning nearly half of all the previous 55 trophies awarded, Arkansas has come out on top only once, with a 75-67 triumph versus Auburn in the 2000 edition.
These two squads met only once during the regular season as the Wildcats delivered an 84-67 win at home in Lexington just two weeks ago. In that contest, Andrew Harrison and Trey Lyles both scored 18 points for the hosts as they survived just 5-of-17 shooting behind the 3-point line. Michael Qualls came up a rebound shy of a double-double for Arkansas as he tallied 17 points for a unit that shot only 5-of-18 on the perimeter and 37.5 percent from the floor overall.
Arkansas did defeat the Wildcats in overtime back on Feb. 27, 2014, but still the Hogs trail in the all-time series by a 26-11 margin.
The Hogs scored the first points of the game against Georgia on Saturday and never looked back, surviving a mere 37.3 percent shooting from the field, which included 4-of-15 beyond the arc. Qualls was responsible for 15 points and six rebounds, followed by Anthlon Bell with 10 points in 18 minutes off the bench. Bobby Portis, who cleared a team-high 12 rebounds, was credited with a mere four points as he connected on only one of his 14 shots attempts.
The Razorbacks used yesterday's effort to vault into the SEC Tournament title game for the sixth time in program history and first since 2008.
Despite the awful shooting performance by Portis versus the Bulldogs, he is still the top overall scorer on the season for Arkansas with 17.7 ppg, having made good on 54.9 percent of his field goal attempts. Responsible for a team- high 48 blocked shots, Portis is also the most active performer on the glass with 8.8 rpg, but the fact that Arkansas was able to win on Saturday even with his diminished offensive contribution has to be a positive sign.
Qualls accounts for another 15.4 ppg and 5.4 rpg, while Rashad Madden chips in 9.8 ppg and has handed out 152 of the squad's assists over the course of 33 outings.
Already having won 17 in a row over the Tigers, Kentucky was provided even more of an advantage on Saturday when Auburn held out both Jordon Granger and Cinmeon Bowers, the former for fighting against LSU on Friday and the latter for potential rules violations.
As if the Wildcats needed even more of an edge against Auburn, the favorites lit up the scoreboard with 56.3 percent accuracy from the floor and 30-of-35 at the free-throw line. Willie Cauley-Stein delivered 18 points, leading five in double figures, adding seven rebounds and three blocked shots. Andrew Harrison pitched in 15 points, while the trio of Lyles, Devon Booker and Aaron Harrison each dropped in 12 in the lopsided outcome.
Outscoring the competition this season by an amazing 21.1 ppg, the Wildcats have a balanced scoring attack that is rivaled by no one. Aaron Harrison may top the overall list with 11.3 ppg and Booker may be second with 10.7 ppg, but clearly any one of a handful of performers has the potential to take the lead and run with it when they get hot, which is good news for Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis who combined have 238 assists, just 18 fewer than all of the Kentucky opponents combined this season.