Kentucky could take the final step to set up a run at history on Sunday. The still-undefeated No. 1 Wildcats (33-0) take on underdogs No. 21 Arkansas (26-7) in the SEC tournament championship game at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.
If Kentucky wins it will mark their 28th SEC tournament title and the first since 2011—it would also set up a run at a perfect season heading into the NCAA Tournament. With Saturday’s 91-67 win over Auburn in the SEC semifinals the Wildcats have won a school record 33 in a row topping a 32 win streak from 1953-55.
Arkansas, the No. 2 seed in the SEC, earned their spot in the championship game by beating Georgia 60-49 in the semifinals. They will face a team with little to no weaknesses, according to Auburn coach, and former Tennessee coach, Bruce Pearl. He spoke highly of John Calipari’s squad.
“When I was in the league at Tennessee, Kentucky had great players, but always there was something there,” Pearl said to reporters. “Maybe they weren’t a great free-throw shooting team one year or they weren’t a great three-point shooting team. There’s nothing there that I can think of [this season].”
Pearl also said Kentucky is the best team he’s ever coached against. Calipari said he works to keep his team playing hard and with focus.
“My job is to get you to be your best, and I’m not settling for less than that," Calipari said to reporters. "If you’re in there, you’re not focused, you’re not fighting, you’re not talking, I’m going to say something.”
Kentucky features an unparalleled roster depth that can wear teams down. If a player isn't playing well, or playing hard, Calipari has plenty of talent to replace him. For instance, against Auburn, forward Willie Cauley-Stein led the way for the Wildcats with 18 points and seven rebounds. Guard Andrew Harrison also added 15. His brother Aaron Harrison added 12 points, as did Trey Lyles and Devin Booker. Scoring can come from anywhere for the Wildcats and their defense is stifling. Star freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns was relatively quiet in the semifinals but adds an average 9.8 points and 6.8 rebounds
Arkansas should be a test for the Wildcats however. The Razorbacks have a stellar offense, leading the SEC, and should put up a fast-paced fight. Sophomore Bobby Portis leads the team and averages 17.7 points and 8.8 rebounds. He scored just four points on one-of-14 shooting, but grabbed 12 rebounds against Georgia in the semifinals. Arkansas will likely need more from their star against a talented Kentucky frontcourt. The last time the two teams met on Feb. 28, Kentucky started hot and won 84-67. Arkansas coach Mike Anderson thinks this game will be a better showing.
"It's going to be a great opportunity, but it's a tremendous challenge to play against the best team in the country," Anderson said to reporters. "I feel we're a much better team than when we played them early in the year."
Anderson’s team will have a big opportunity on Sunday to play the spoiler role. Kentucky will have the chance to inch one step closer to making history.
Start Time: 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Prediction: Arkansas is a tough test and a good primer for the rigor of the NCAA Tournament for the Wildcats. In the end, Kentucky will stay perfect.
Kentucky over Arkansas, 87-71