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Rewind: UK breathes sigh of relief

SEC Tournament Quarterfinals
Mar. 9, 2012
New Orleans Arena; New Orleans, La.

Terrence Jones drove past an LSU defender in the Cats' 60-51 victory (photo by The Cats' Pause's Mark Zerof)

NEW ORLEANS - Maybe it was John Calipari's insistence he didn't particularly want to be there, or maybe it was four players making their postseason debut. Whatever it was, Kentucky wasn't itself for the first 25 minutes of what it hopes is a long March run.

The Cats trailed by five early in the second half before finally unleashing a 13-2 run that gave them the lead for good on the way to a 60-51 victory over LSU in the Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinals at New Orleans Arena. The Tigers would not go away, fighting tooth and nail to make UK close out what was a much more competitive game than the Cats' 24-point win in Baton Rouge on Jan. 25.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist led UK with 19 points (and nine rebounds), while Terrence Jones (15 points, 11 rebounds) and Anthony Davis (12 points, 13 rebounds, six blocks) each recorded double doubles. Jones was particularly active during the Cats' separation run, scoring nine straight points.

On the cause for UK's 18 turnovers
“I think it was that press, that relentless press. Oh, they didn't press? I'm sorry. They were physical and we were getting bumped and we couldn't hold on to balls. It just got too physical for guys. I had a couple of guys I couldn't leave in the game.”

“I told (the players), 'Here comes the run.' And again, it's hard for people to understand, but that's not a good team, that's a great team. They've got great players. So they're going to make a push and they made a push and they did a good job of taking us out of some of our stuff. So be it.” – LSU coach Trent Johnson, on what he told his team during the Cats' decisive run

“You really have to have us thinking now, okay, the teams are going to come out and play us like their life is on the line and if we don't come out and play then we can lose. So I think it was a great game for us to play to get our mindset right going into our next game.” – UK forward Anthony Davis

It isn't exactly a new development given the fact John Calipari has said it all season but Kentucky once again found out just how much different a team it is when Terrence Jones is engaged and determined to be an aggressive force on both ends of the floor. The sophomore forward recorded his second double-double of the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds, but his effort was about more than just his raw statistics. Jones' personal 9-0 run turned a 35-30 deficit into a 39-35 lead the Cats never relinquished, but it was the way he did it – alley-oop dunk, driving dunk, tip-in on the break and two trips to the free throw line – that had to excite Calipari.

Marquis Teague is a much improved point guard from the beginning of the season and he has been mostly terrific over the last six weeks but he did not play like that version of himself in the postseason opener. Given that background it was not surprising that UK finally found its footing and made its decisive 13-2 run when Teague was pulled in favor of Darius Miller after a pair of inexcusable turnovers in the second half, the second of which led to a LSU runout as Teague squabbled with a teammate instead of chasing the play. Miller immediately found Jones for an alley-oop that jump started the run and changed the entire body language and demeanor of the Cats. It was surely just a bump in the road for Teague but even he admitted it was not his best performance.

At this point this category should just be renamed 'Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for MVP' because the irrepressible freshman forward once again willed the Cats through a first half that appeared to have the rest of the team sleepwalking. Kidd-Gilchrist finished had 10 points and seven rebounds (his final line was 19 points, nine rebounds) in the first half, but it was the way Kentucky went to him in the post on three straight possessions that showed everyone he meant business. The outcome of those three possessions when UK was struggling: baby hook for a score, baby hook for a score, two free throws after drawing a foul. Just another day at the office for MKG.

18 – LSU looked a step faster than Kentucky for much of the day, resulting in 18 turnovers for the Cats as the Tigers jumped passing lanes, bodied the Cats on drives and at times just ripped the ball away from them. The 18 giveaways were the most since UK had 19 against Arkansas-Little Rock on Jan. 3 (not coincidentally, the last time they played a half as poorly as the first half against LSU) and easily bested the most they had in SEC play, which was 15 against South Carolina on Jan. 7.

There are a dozen things you could put under the microscope from this game – not the least of which would be the most on-court squabbling and negative facial expressions in a single game all year – but the thought here is that some of that can be explained away as a first experience in postseason play for the Cats' four freshmen. Furthermore, UK hadn't played a 'bad' game in more than two months so at some point it was bound to happen and better to occur in a game where the Cats are far better than their opponent.

Kentucky (31-1) didn't exactly wow the masses but it toughed out a victory and advanced to Saturday's SEC Tournament semifinals against the winner of Alabama and Florida.

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