NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After recently struggling to start or sometimes finish games effectively, No. 8 Kentucky opened tournament play by taking control and maintaining it against one of its toughest foes.
Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox each scored 20 points, Bam Adebayo added 13 and the Wildcats led Georgia throughout for a 71-60 victory on Friday in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Coming off a double bye as the No. 1 seed, the well-rested Wildcats started both halves quickly and steadily pulled away for a double-digit win over the Bulldogs after two close victories against them. Kentucky (27-5) offset 38 percent shooting by holding Georgia to 19 of 57 from the field (33 percent) and leading by as many as 18.
Briscoe provided the biggest lift, making 8 of 15 for his highest output since scoring a season-high 23 against Georgia on Jan. 31. Fox contended with foul trouble but made 7 of 12 while Adebayo grabbed 10 rebounds to help Kentucky advance to Saturday’s semifinal against Alabama.
“We wanted to come out with a lot of energy and press early and get the game to speed up,” said Briscoe, who also had six rebounds. “That was the emphasis all week in practice. I think we executed coming out today.”
Derek Willis grabbed a team-high 11 boards and scored seven points before fouling out. Kentucky scored 18 points off 13 Georgia turnovers, getting several critical baskets off mistakes at the beginning of both halves.
“It was the defense, the fight, that won the game for us,” coach John Calipari said.
J.J. Frazier had 15 points and Yante Maten added 12 for the eighth-seeded Bulldogs (19-14), who played their second tournament game in as many days. But Georgia’s top two scorers combined to make just 7 of 28 from the field, with Frazier missing all three attempts from behind the arc.
“Earlier in the game they loaded up on the ball screens and loaded up when I had the ball,” said Frazier, who scored 36 points in Georgia’s last meeting against Kentucky. “So it made it a lot (more) difficult. When I got the clean looks, I just didn’t knock them down.”