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Kentucky, Vanderbilt set to meet in SEC quarterfinals

UK athletics

Kentucky will open play in the 2022 SEC Men's Basketball Tournament on Friday at approximately 8:30 p.m. ET. And when they do, the Cats will see a familiar opponent on the other side of the floor.
For the third time this season, Kentucky will take on Vanderbilt. The Commodores beat Alabama 82-76 on Thursday night in the second round of the tournament. Vandy got 26 points from Scotty Pippen Jr and 18 from Myles Stute in the victory, their second in two days in Tampa. WUKY SportsPage podcast host Keith Elkins tells us what to watch for in this third go-round against the 'Dores.

The Cats faced the Commodores in Nashville on Jan. 11 and it was Oscar Tshiebwe who had a huge game. The SEC Player of the Year had 30 points and 13 rebounds as UK won 78-66 in a game that was not as close as the final score would indicate. Vandy actually scored the final 16 points of the game as the Cats went scoreless over the last six minutes, after building a 28-point lead.

The rematch came on Feb. 2 at Rupp Arena, a game that Kentucky won 77-70. The second game was much closer than the first contest throughout. Davion Mintz led Kentucky with 21 points in the game, while Keion Brooks Jr. had 20 and Kellan Grady added 12. Tshiebwe had 11 points and 17 rebounds. Pippen led all scorers with 33 points.

Now, the Cats and the Commodores will meet for a third time, this time with a spot in the SEC semifinals on the line. UK head coach John Calipari knows that beating a team three times in one season is tough. Why is that?

"The other team we've played is more inspired," Calipari said. "My thing is, I'm not worried about that. How many times I've been in this position, I can't even tell you. Probably lost some, probably won some. My thing is, I'm not worried about that. It's, how do we get to where we're in the mental space we need to be in. That we're a machine. Here we come."

Calipari knows that, when the Commodores are hot, they can beat anyone in the country.

"They're playing well. They're playing good," Calipari said. "They've won three or four in a row now. It's going to be a hard game for us. They've got everybody healthy. They're dangerous and playing as well as anyone in our league right now."

Kentucky has won its last two games, and four of its last five, heading into this tournament. Tshiebwe was named SEC Player of the Year and has also been named National Player of the Year by some outlets. His averages of 17.3 points and 15.3 rebounds per game have earned him those accolades.

On Friday, it's the Cats and the Commodores for a third time this season.