TAMPA, Fla. – TyTy Washington Jr. scored 25 points, Oscar Tshiebwe tied a half-century-old school record and No. 5 Kentucky beat Vanderbilt 77-71 in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Friday night.
Washington was at his best during a second-half spurt, scoring eight straight points that helped the third-seeded Wildcats (26-6) create a little breathing room in a back-and-forth game. The freshman hit consecutive 3-pointers from the corner, just a few steps from Kentucky’s bench, and then sank a floater in the lane that barely tickled the net and made it 69-60.
He added four free throws in the final 19 seconds to seal the victory inside a packed, pro-Kentucky crowd at Amalie Arena. Washington made 8 of 17 shots, including 4 of 5 from behind the arc.
Tshiebwe, a national player of the year candidate, notched his 14th consecutive double-double and 26th of the season with 12 points and 14 rebounds. That matches the single-season mark set by Kentucky great Dan Issel in 1969-70.
Kentucky won for the 15th time in its last 18 games and moved a step closer to securing a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. A win Saturday should do it: The Cats advanced to play No. 2 seed Tennessee in the second of two semifinals. Texas A&M and Arkansas will meet in the other.
Tshiebwe also had a career-high five blocks, and the Wildcats needed every one of them and then some to hold off the pesky Commodores (17-16) for the third time in two months.
Kentucky looked like it was going to pull away in the second half when it used a 15-1 run to turn a seven-point deficit into a seven-point lead. But Vandy coach Jerry Stackhouse called timeout to regroup, and the Commodores clawed their way back.
Scotty Pippen Jr., with his famous NBA father cheering behind the Vandy bench, wasn’t nearly as effective as he’s been all season or in either of his first two games against Kentucky (32 and 33 points, respectively).
Pippen ended up with 10 points and seven assists in the quarterfinal matchup, missing 15 of 17 shots from the field and 6 of 7 from 3-point range. He only got to the free-throw line five times, an off night for a guy who essentially lives at the charity stripe.
Jordan Wright picked up the slack, scoring 27 points on 10-of-12 shooting. It wasn’t enough against a Kentucky team with so many options and answers.
Jacob Toppin, who played the second half with a plastic face shield after sustaining a bloody nose, added 10 points. Davion Mintz also added 10.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores showed grit in the tournament, hammering Georgia and upsetting NCAA-bound Alabama. But they ran out of steam while playing for the third straight day.
Kentucky: Big Blue was on the ropes at times and responded every time. Washington came up huge in this one, but it could be Sahvir Wheeler, Kellan Grady or any number of others in the next game.
Vanderbilt: Awaits an NIT bid.
Kentucky: Faces No. 2 seed Tennessee in a semifinal on Saturday. The teams split their regular-season meetings, with each winning at home.