The Kentucky Wildcats dominated the SEC during the regular season. It's little surprise they finished the SEC tournament with a dominating performance, too.
Save for a late push from the Arkansas Razorbacks, the Wildcats controlled the SEC tournament final Sunday, winning 82-65. The victory marked Kentucky's 30th SEC tournament title, while the rest of the SEC has managed just 27 in total, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Kentucky's trio of freshman starters in De'Aaron Fox (18 points, two assists), Malik Monk (17 points, three assists) and Bam Adebayo (17 points, nine rebounds) led the way for Kentucky, while senior Dominique Hawkins provided 14 points off the bench.
Fox was named the tournament's MVP, per the SEC Network.
It was precisely the showing Kentucky needed heading into the NCAA tournament, and Dan Wolken of USA Today was impressed by the Wildcats:
Daryl Macon was excellent for Arkansas off the bench, posting 18 points, while the team's leading scorer, Dusty Hannahs, finished with 14 points.
The game did get a bit chippy in the final moments as Hannahs was called for a flagrant-1 after extending his arms while setting a screen, and Moses Kingsley was slapped with a flagrant-2 and an ejection after an overly aggressive contest on a Fox drive.
It wasn't pretty, as Chris Vernon of The Ringer noted:
Kentucky kept its composure down the stretch, however, closing out the win.
The victory almost assuredly locks the Wildcats into a No. 2 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament, and they'll be a scary opponent for any team they face. Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports certainly thinks so:
The backcourt of Monk and Fox—both likely top-10 picks in this summer's NBA draft—makes them a threat to win a national title. But Kentucky also has a solid blend of experience and talent, the experience of John Calipari guiding them and the ability to blitzkrieg opponents with their blistering pace in transition. The Wildcats are a legitimate threat to cut down the nets.
Arkansas, meanwhile, will have to travel a more perilous path to reach college basketball glory. Coming into the game, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi projected the Razorbacks to be a No. 9 seed, and if that comes to fruition, they won't be guaranteed to escape their first game.
Their run through the SEC tournament was impressive—at least until they ran into Kentucky—but the Razorbacks will have to play their best basketball of the season to make a splash in March Madness.
The chippy finish to the game was acknowledged by both teams, though both Monk and Calipari put some of the blame on the talented shooting guard, who made a throat-slashing gesture toward the Arkansas bench in the waning moments, per Kyle Deckelbaum of the KATV:
That gesture was in response to Monk overhearing Matt Zimmerman, Arkansas’ director of basketball operations, talking trash to him in pregame warmups, according to Kyle Turner of SEC Country.
Kingsley, meanwhile, didn't protest his ejection.
"Yeah, I probably deserved it," he told Deckelbaum. "As a man I have to accept it happened. Can't blame it on nobody. Have to blame it on me."
Hey, what's an SEC final without a bit of drama, right?
But Calipari seemed more interested on focusing on the positives, both about his team and the impressive showing from Hawkins, per Kentucky Basketball:
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, meanwhile, is looking ahead.
"This was a quick turnaround," he noted, per Razorback Nation. "End of the day, we'll be dancing."
Both teams will be. After Sunday's matchup, however, Kentucky seems poised to be dancing for longer.