Rapid Reaction: Kentucky 74, Florida 71
March, 10, 2012
By David Helman | ESPN.com
NEW ORLEANS -- Kentucky once again got all it asked for in the SEC tournament, and the Wildcats once again responded. Quick thoughts from UK's 74-71 win against Florida.
Overview: Billy Donovan referred to 3-pointers as "the great equalizer" Friday, and did that ever prove to be the case. The Gators led for all but 10 seconds of the first half, and built a lead as big as 10 points. The reason? An absurdly hot start from the arc (5-of-8 from deep in the first 12 minutes). The Gators were shooting as well as 62 percent from the field at one point in the first half, but they inevitably trailed off.
When they did, the Wildcats made their move. Kentucky outscored Florida 10-2 in the last five minutes of the first half, and an Anthony Davis 3 put the Wildcats up 40-39 at the buzzer.
The Gators rediscovered their spark after the break by connecting on their first four shots to re-establish the lead. The game settled into a grinding, physical affair for the next 10 or so minutes before gearing up for a fantastic final five minutes.
It looked like the Wildcats were primed to shrug the upset bid off when Terrence Jones blew up for seven points during an 11-0 Kentucky run. The Wildcats took a lead as big as nine points and appeared to have things under control, but the Gators' 3-point shooting once again pulled them close. Successful treys from Erik Murphy and Bradley Beal made it a 68-66 game entering the final minute.
Turning point: Holding the ball and the lead, Kentucky drew a foul under the basket with 37 seconds remaining. Jones, who finished with 15 points, sank both free throws to make it 70-66.
Murphy answered with a bank shot put-back with 17 seconds left. The Gators fouled, and Marquis Teague went to the line for two more shots -- both of which he made for a 72-68 lead. Florida bricked a 3-point attempt, and the game was effectively over.
Key player: The foul shots were icing on the cake for Teague. He had an ugly, ugly outing Friday against LSU, but he rebounded in fine form against the Gators. He didn't lead the team in scoring, but he earned every one of his 15 points with relentless and dizzying drives to the basket. Teague was probably Kentucky's most consistent weapon (6-of-9 from the floor). He also chipped in five assists to the Cats' bigs.
Key stat: Led by Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the Wildcats grabbed a whopping 16 offensive boards, which led to 14 second-chance points.
Without the Gators' impressive 11-of-22 effort from the 3-point line, this game wouldn't have even been close. The basket must have looked 10 feet wide for Florida's marksmen.
Miscellaneous: Florida kept up its 3-point shooting barrage until the very death. Erving Walker hit one last 3 with two seconds on the clock, but with the Gators trailing by six, it didn't do much good.
What's next: Kentucky advances to the tournament championship game against either Vanderbilt or Ole Miss. The Gators were already a lock for the NCAA tournament, but a win against fellow tourney team Alabama and a strong effort against the nation's best team has to help their cause for a good seed.