Pat Forde,Yahoo Sports

NASHVILLE, Tennessee — The only bad thing about the NCAA tournament is that it dwarfs everything that comes before it. Months of effort and excellence are reduced to prelude. Great games are forgotten.

Carve out a slice of memory for Tennessee 82, Kentucky 78. The Saturday semifinal in the Southeastern Conference tournament deserves it.

This was a game played on a Final Four level in a boiling, raucous atmosphere — one of the few times in SEC history where Kentucky blue didn't overwhelm everything. It was the first time in a long time, maybe since the Kentucky-Arkansas brawls of the mid-1990s, that this tournament has had two Top 10 teams collide with high NCAA seeding and conference supremacy on the line. And then the game lived up to the hype.

It was tense and intense, with sustained drama from a torrid opening salvo through a steely Tennessee comeback in the final minutes.

"Honestly," said Vols senior Admiral Schofield, "that was one of the funnest games I've ever played in."

He's played in 127 of them as a collegian. This one will be hard to top.

The Wildcats are really good. The Volunteers were a smidge better. They both should be an absolute handful in the next tourney.

But wait, there I go looking ahead. First let's look back at this battle.

Tennessee hit Kentucky with a 7-of-9 3-point shooting barrage in the first half, and the Wildcats never blinked. They were down just two points at halftime, even with star P.J. Washington sitting out 14 minutes with foul trouble, thanks to the usual assault on the backboard.

The Volunteers finally started missing threes in the second half — eight straight, in fact — and UK seemed to assert control. When the 'Cats budged the lead out to eight points with 2:58 remaining, a potentially classic game seemed doomed to an anticlimactic ending.

"We should win that game," John Calipari said. "They said, 'You're not winning the game. We're not stopping.' "

Tennessee would not be stopped. Grant Williams, undersized against Kentucky's long front line, went around, over and through the Cats for five straight points to make it 72-69. Then, in the final two minutes — when the shots absolutely had to fall — the Volunteers dropped a trio of threes on Kentucky.

Schofield hit one to make it a two-point game. Then Williams swished one from the corner — the first three he's made in two weeks — to give Tennessee the lead again at 75-74. And after a Williams offensive rebound and a timeout with 38.5 seconds left, Kentucky back in the lead by a point, the Vols hit the dagger shot.