KENTUCKY 74, FLORIDA 71
SEC Tournament Semifinals
Mar. 10, 2012
New Orleans Arena; New Orleans, La.
Doron Lamb celebrated in the final seconds of UK's 74-71 victory (photo by Mark Zerof)
NEW ORLEANS - Kentucky is getting a crash course in just how challenging the postseason can be. The Cats are also showing they appear up to the task.
The Cats got every bit of Florida's best before pulling out a 74-71 victory in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at New Orleans Arena. It was UK's 37th victory in 39 lifetime games in the SEC Tournament semifinals and put UK in line for a potential third league tournament title in coach John Calipari's three seasons.
Like the quarterfinals against LSU, Kentucky (32-1) trailed by five in the second half before going on a 14-0 run to claim a 65-56 lead with 6:59 remaining. The Gators did not score for a stretch of 6:34 but the Cats couldn't convert several chances to apply the knockout punch.
Florida sliced the lead to 68-66 with 1:54 remaining but the Cats made all six of their free throws down the stretch to hold on. Terrence Jones had 15 points and nine rebounds, while Anthony Davis added 15 points and 12 rebounds. Florida's Erik Murphy scored a career-high 24 points and Bradley Beal added 20 for the Gators.
“I've got this team that has a will to win. They want to win. They have great pride. We're just a really young team that every one of those experiences is good for my team. It's good. Every time this kind of experience comes up it's good for them”
“I thought the difference in the game was the fact we got to the free throw line two times in by far the most physical game we've played in all year. How we only got there two times is beyond me. There's no way in a game like that. I'm not saying we didn't foul them. We're doing the same thing. I'll just deal with the (SEC) office on it. And I'll have a lot to say, too.” – Florida coach Billy Donovan
FROM THE LOCKER ROOM
“Florida played well today. They hit a lot of shots, knocked down threes. Murphy played great. Brad Beal played great. But kind of down the stretch, we started getting stops and making it tough on them to knock down shots. They played great for just about 40 minutes today and we still were able to come out with a win.” – UK guard Marquis Teague
Terrence Jones is one more impressive performance and a third consecutive Kentucky SEC Tournament championship from earning a measure of satisfaction by winning the Most Valuable Player for the event. The sophomore forward was the ignition switch again for the Cats, scoring seven points in his team's game-changing 14-0 run that turned another five-point second half deficit into a nine-point edge. Jones came within one rebound of notching his second straight double-double (15 points, nine rebounds) and helped steady UK in the final 35 seconds when he calmly made a pair of free throws to stem Florida's late challenge. In his last three games Jones is averaging 16.3 points and 8.0 rebounds.
(Photo by Mark Zerof)
While this game was much more entertaining and free flowing than UK's opener against LSU the situations weren't all that different when the Cats did what championship teams do – deliver the one tide-turning spurt that gives them the cushion they need at the end. Trailing 56-51 with 10:42 left, the Cats scored the next 14 points over a span of 6:13, holding Florida scoreless for an even longer stretch of 6:34. The Gators' possessions during that time: air-balled jumper, turnover, blocked shot and missed second chance, miss in paint, turnover, turnover in backcourt, turnover, missed three-pointer. That gave Kentucky the opening it needed to storm through and take the game from a Florida team that played exceedingly well for much of the game.
How about Marquis Teague's response to maybe his worst game of the year against LSU? The freshman point guard proved he can shake off a bad effort and rebound in short order, driving the Cats with 15 points, five assists, a steal and 6-of-9 shooting. Teague told his teammates after the LSU game that he wouldn't have that time of showing again and he backed up his words with maybe his best all-around game of the season. He was fearless in driving at Florida's big men and he capped his night by burying a pair of free throws with UK gripping a two-point lead in the final 15 seconds. Kudos to the young man for showing some major guts.
18 – In the postgame press conference, Billy Donovan matter-of-factly said what a lot of people seemed to feel during the game: that this was perhaps the most physical game either squad had played all year and nothing short of ripping someone's appendages off was going to be whistled. Somehow though, UK got to the free throw line 20 times to just twice for Florida, outscoring the Gators by 13 at the charity stripe. That helped the Cats offset Florida's 18-point edge from beyond the arc, which was critical given the Gators made 11 triples.
Kentucky played with fire for the second consecutive day in the tournament but it also showed why it has to be the odds-on favorite to win the NCAA title. Even when the Cats aren't playing their best basketball or are absorbing an opponent's best body blow they still pull themselves together for one devastating stretch of basketball that makes all of that seem inconsequential. North Carolina may be the only other team in the country that has the ability to do that in such short order, which can crush teams' confidence.
Kentucky (32-1) advanced to the SEC Tournament championship for the third consecutive year with a chance to complete a perfect 19-0 march through league play. It will face the winner of Vanderbilt and Ole Miss at 1 p.m. on Sunday.