NASHVILLE -- Kentucky captured its 30th SEC Tournament championship on Sunday when the top-seeded Wildcats defeated No. 3 seed Arkansas 82-65 at Bridgestone Arena.
"This is a talented group," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "I know they say there are other teams more talented. I'll take mine. Let me start right there. I will take mine."
Freshman guard De'Aaron Fox, who was named tournament MVP, topped Kentucky with 18 points. Freshman forward Bam Adebayo added 17 and nine rebounds. Freshman guard Malik Monk added 17, and senior guard Dominique Hawkins scored 14. Adebayo and Hawkins, a sixth man, joined Fox on the all-tourney team.
"We're building our bench," Calipari said. "And when you have a deep bench going into this tournament, you have more room for error, injuries, foul trouble, bad play, a guy gets sick. When you have five, six guys and that one guy goes down and you're deep into your bunch, you're losing."
Arkansas was paced by junior guard Daryl Macon with 18 points on 7 of 11 shooting. Senior guard Dusty Hannahs added 14 and junior guard Jaylen Barford scored 13.
With the score tied 23-23, Hawkins engineered his own 6-0 run thanks to four points, two steals and a rebound in 52 seconds. Kentucky would push the lead to 31-23 with 5:03 left in the half.
When a Hawkins 3-pointer gave UK a 39-30 lead just before halftime the two in-state products (Hawkins, Richmond, and Derek Willis, Mount Washington) had combined for 14 points, nine rebounds, three steals and two blocks.
Kentucky's other senior, Mychal Mulder, then closed the half with a deep 3-pointer to send Kentucky to the locker room with a 42-30 lead, its largest of the game despite Kentucky's three premier freshmen -- Fox, Monk, Adebayo -- each missed action with two fouls each.
"All three games, and really late in the season, it's almost like you're waiting to put him in the game, like something has to happen so you can hurry up and put him in," Calipari said of Hawkins. "His energy level, his aggressiveness.
"Here's a young man that waited his turn and, you know it's hard to do these days," Calipari said. "He's looking around and everybody is flying out and looking at the All Star games. But I'm telling you, he is a true leader, he's about everybody else. Such a kind heart."
Four straight points by Adebayo to start the second half pushed Kentucky on top by 16 points, 46-30. After Arkansas climbed back to within 10 points, a Hawkins 3-pointer as part of 9-0 run gave Kentucky its biggest lead of 19 points at 63-44 with 7:34 left. During that time Arkansas went nearly seven minutes without a point.
A frantic late rally by Arkansas cut the lead to nine points with two minutes left before two Arkansas flagrant fouls -- a flagrant one on Hannahs at 1:20 and a flagrant two with ejection on Moses Kingsley at 1:02 -- enabled UK to push back on top for a final margin of 17 points.
"As truth to our character, our guys they fought back and cut it to nine going down the stretch," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. "And one of them you saw going down the stretch, competitive teams. They're both teams going at it, getting after it. Sometimes the temperament gets out of hand.
"It was unfortunate but, at the same time, I don't think anybody was intent on trying to hurt anybody," Anderson said. "But at the end of the day, our guys fought to the bitter end and came up a little short. Now it's on to the next goal."
Kentucky shot 49 percent, including 40 percent from 3-point range. Arkansas shot 42.6 percent, 22.2 from 3-point range.
The game started with Kentucky, which had fallen behind by double digits in four of its last five games, jumping out to a 7-2 lead. Adebayo scored four points, Fox three as the Wildcats opened by making 3 of 4 shots.
Arkansas, meanwhile, started 1-for-7 and went nearly three minutes without a point before catching fire for its own 7-0 run to grab a 9-7 advantage. Watkins had five points.
With the score tied 9-9, Arkansas' Kingsley was whistled for a technical foul when he complained to referee Doug Shows after a tie ball situation. Monk hit both free throws to make it 11-9. Then Fox drained a 17-footer to put UK up 13-9 at 12:34 only see Arkansas bounce back to tie.
Kentucky shot 60.7 percent in the first half with 19 rebounds and nine turnovers. Arkansas was only 37 percent with 11 rebounds and nine turnovers.
Adebayo paced Kentucky with 10 points, Hawkins had nine. Macon topped the Razorbacks with 10 points.
NOTES: Kentucky now holds a 9-1 record against Arkansas in the SEC Tournament, including a 4-0 mark in the championship game. ... UK has won 11 straight games, the longest winning streak since the 2014-15 team won 38 to start the season. ... Arkansas shoots 76.2 percent from the free-throw line, the highest in 55 years.