College Basketball Nation: 2011 SEC tournament

ATLANTA -- If Florida’s basketball team was ever going to become a threat in the NCAA tournament again, coach Billy Donovan knew the Gators would have to get back to the principles of “Billy Ball.”

Most importantly, Donovan wanted his players to share the basketball and make opponents pick their poison on defense.

“You’ve got to be able to weather a bad shooting day,” Donovan said. “If you’ve got to have two guys score 20 points to win, what happens if they don’t score 20?”

The No. 12 Gators are headed to Sunday’s SEC championship game against No. 16 Kentucky -- and look like a legitimate threat in the upcoming NCAA tournament -- because they finally heeded their coach’s advice.

A day after each of Florida’s five starters scored 10 points or more in an 85-74 victory over Tennessee in the SEC tourney quarterfinals, guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker combined for 41 points and forward Chandler Parsons added 16 in a 77-66 win over No. 24 Vanderbilt in the semifinals at the Georgia Dome.

“I’ve always believed that you’re really predictable if you only have one or two options,” Donovan said. “I want to have five guys scoring 10 to 18 points a game.”

When the Gators won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and ’07, each of their five starters – guards Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey and forwards Corey Brewer, Al Horford and Joakim Noah – were capable of going off in any game.

“You become more difficult to defend,” Donovan said. “When I had Al Horford, he was capable of scoring 35 points. But he was more interested in doing what was needed to win.”

Although this Florida team isn’t nearly as talented as the squads that won two consecutive NCAA titles, they might be as unselfish and deep.

Parson, voted the SEC player of the year by the league’s coaches, is the team’s third-leading scorer with 11.6 points per game. Parsons leads the Gators with 7.7 rebounds and 111 assists.

Since 1996, every SEC player of the year ranked in the top 11 in scoring. Parsons currently ranks No. 24.

“I think it’s just the character of this team,” Parsons said. “We don’t have anyone who wants to go out and score 20 points. We have six or eight guys who are capable of going off.”

Boynton and Walker went off against the Commodores on Saturday, helping the Gators erase a 12-point deficit in the second half, which matched their biggest comeback of the season.

Boynton made five 3-pointers; Walker added three.

“They got hot in the second half and made some tough ones, but that’s what they do,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “That’s what they’ve done all season. That’s why they’re the league champion.”

By beating Vanderbilt, the Gators became the fifth team in school history to win 26 games in a season. The first four teams – in 1994, 2000, ’06 and ’07 – reached the Final Four.

“I don’t think we have the lottery picks [we had in ’06 and ’07],” Donovan said. “But I think we have a really good team that’s getting better and better.”

ATLANTA -- Florida and Kentucky will play for the SEC tournament title on Sunday, after the Gators ran away from Vanderbilt 77-66 in the semifinals at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.

The Gators and Wildcats were the league’s hottest teams heading into the SEC tournament. Kentucky is the defending SEC tourney champions; Florida will be aiming for its first SEC tourney title since 2007.

Turning point: The Commodores cut Florida’s lead to 60-59 on Festus Ezeli’s dunk with 5:36 to play. But then Florida guard Kenny Boynton took over, scoring eight points on the next three trips. He sandwiched a pair of 3-pointers around a layup, and his second trey gave the Gators a 65-61 lead with 4:32 to play.

Key players: Boynton scored 24 points on 8-for-16 shooting, and backcourt mate Erving Walker added 17 points on 6-for-14 shooting. Forward Chandler Parsons had 16 points and nine rebounds.

Key stat: 11-21: Florida made 11 of 21 3-pointers, the most it has made in a game this season.

Miscellaneous: Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins scored 10 points on 3-for-15 shooting, including 2-for-12 on 3-pointers.

What’s next: Florida will play Kentucky in Sunday’s SEC tournament championship game. The Gators will be seeking their first SEC tournament title since winning three in a row from 2005-07. The Gators and Wildcats split their two regular-season meetings this season, with UF winning 70-68 in Gainesville, Fla., on Feb. 5 and UK winning 76-68 in Lexington, Ky., on Feb. 26.

ATLANTA -- Kentucky forward Josh Harrellson thought he would regret sending the tweet for 30 days.

[+] EnlargeJosh Harrellson
AP Photo/John BazemoreAlabama guard Trevor Releford (12) will try to end Kentucky's upper hand on the SEC.
After grabbing 26 rebounds in Kentucky’s preseason Blue & White scrimmage, Harrellson was screaming for attention from Wildcats coach John Calipari. So Harrellson tweeted something to the effect of: “What do I have to do to get some love from this guy?”

Calipari didn’t find the remark to be very funny. He took away Harrellson’s Twitter privileges and ordered his big man to do additional conditioning runs for 30 days. Before every practice, Harrellson was required to run 20 suicides in 20 minutes.

Kind of like Forrest Gump, Harrellson kept running and running and running.

“It was one of the worst things I’ve ever done,” Harrellson said. “But I realized I had to push through it.”

Thirty days came and went, and three months after that Harrellson finally stopped running. By the time Harrellson was done, he’d lost about 12 pounds and reduced his body-fat percentage from 17 percent to 9 percent.

And his game got much better as a result.

In Kentucky’s 72-58 victory over SEC West champion Alabama in Saturday’s SEC tournament semifinal at the Georgia Dome, Harrellson scored 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds.

The Wildcats advanced to play the winner of Saturday’s semifinal between Florida and Vanderbilt in Sunday’s championship game, where UK will be shooting for its 27th SEC tournament title.

After averaging four minutes and scoring 28 points in 22 games as a junior, Harrellson is averaging 6.8 points and 8.7 rebounds this season.

“It’s one thing getting kids that are born on third base and helping them get home,” Calipari said. “It’s another thing when kids are outside the stadium trying to get in. Some of it is the environment they were brought up in, and some it is they are fighting to be a significant player. A guy like Josh, who learned how to work, he did it. It wasn’t what I did. He did it. He changed.”

Harrellson, a 6-foot-10, 263-pound senior from St. Charles, Mo., wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American like many of his UK teammates. He played his first season at Southwestern Illinois College in 2007-08 then transferred to UK. He was recruited by plenty of schools, such as Indiana, Iowa, Iowa State, Missouri, Ohio State and Purdue, but hardly looked like an SEC big man during his first two seasons at Kentucky.

Harrellson averaged 3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds as a sophomore. Former UK coach Billy Gillispie was so frustrated with Harrellson’s lack of production that he made him sit in a bathroom stall during halftime of UK’s 77-64 loss at Vanderbilt on Feb. 17, 2009.

“If you’re doing the same things over and over and thinking you’re going to get a different result, that’s insanity,” Calipari said. “That’s the definition of insanity. You have to change. He changed.”

Before this season started, Kentucky’s other players probably figured Harrellson would spend another campaign sitting on the bench. Calipari hoped Turkish signee Enes Kanter would be playing in the paint this season. But Kanter was ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA in early January because of financial compensation he received from a Turkish professional team.

Harrellson has been better than anyone could have expected. He scored 23 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in a 78-63 victory at Louisville on New Year’s Eve then had 16 points and six rebounds in a 73-61 win against Tennessee on Feb. 8.

Now the Wildcats need Harrellson’s production more than ever. Freshmen Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones have struggled in the first two SEC tournament games, shooting a combined 6-for-20 against the Crimson Tide.

Harrellson and junior Darius Miller, who had 10 points against Alabama, are helping the Cats pick up the slack.

“That’s what we need,” Jones said. “It’s the way we hope they finish off the season. Right now, Brandon and I are struggling to hit shots. But we’re still getting big leads. The sky is the limit. With the way Darius and Josh are playing right now, it’s going to be hard to guard all five positions.”

Especially the big kid in the paint.

“Here’s a kid that’s going to be a professional basketball player,” Calipari said. “Are you kidding me? I played him 35 minutes last year for the season. He’s playing 35 minutes a game. I’m proud of him.”
ATLANTA -- Despite another day of sub-shooting performances by freshman stars Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones, Kentucky is headed back to another SEC tournament championship game.

With the Wildcats’ veterans and supporting cast provided much of the production, UK blasted SEC West champion Alabama 72-58 in the SEC tourney semifinals at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.

Kentucky advances to the SEC tournament championship game on Sunday.

Turning point: When the teams took the floor. Kentucky avenged its 68-66 loss at Tuscaloosa on Jan. 18 and led this one from wire to wire. After leading by 14 points at the half, UK led by as many as 26 late in the second half.

Key players: Senior center Josh Harrellson continues to play well for UK, scoring 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting with 10 rebounds. Freshman Doron Lamb scored 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting, and reserve DeAndre Liggins had 14 points and shot 3-for-3 on 3-pointers.

Key stat: 50 percent: Kentucky made 27 of its 54 shots from the floor, after shooting only 37.7 percent in the first meeting against the Crimson Tide.

Miscellaneous: Liggins and Lamb both left the game in the final minutes with apparent ankle injuries. Liggins ran off the floor with a noticeable limp; Lamb was helped off the floor by trainers.

What’s next: Kentucky will play the winner of Saturday’s semifinals game between Florida and Vanderbilt in Sunday’s championship game. Alabama, which has a 21-11 record, figures to have anxious 27 hours or so as it waits to learn its postseason fate. The Crimson Tide went 12-4 vs. SEC foes this season, but their unsightly computer profile leaves them sitting on the NCAA at-large bubble.
ATLANTA -- Vanderbilt stars John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor showed again on Friday night why the Commodores can be a dangerous team in March, as the pair combined to score 49 points in an 87-81 victory over Mississippi State in the SEC tourney semifinals at the Georgia Dome.

The Commodores advanced to play SEC regular-season champion Florida in Saturday’s semifinals.

Turning point: With the score tied at 76 with about two minutes to play, the Bulldogs did the unimaginable. The Bulldogs twice fouled Jenkins on 3-point attempts -- and he even made the second one. Jenkins, one of the best foul shooters in the country at better than 88 percent, made three foul shots for a 79-76 lead with 2:03 left. After Renardo Sidney's reverse layup cut Vandy’s lead to 79-78, the Bulldogs fouled Jenkins again. His 3-pointer was good and he made a foul shot to complete the four-point play for an 83-78 lead.

Key players: Jenkins and Taylor were fantastic, especially down the stretch. Jenkins scored 29 points on 10-for-17 shooting, including 5-for-9 on 3-pointers. Taylor, who has been up and down all season, scored 20 points on 9-for-16 shooting.

Key stat: 18: 20-point games by Jenkins this season, tops in the SEC.

Miscellaneous: Sidney, an oft-troubled sophomore from Jackson, Miss., enjoyed one of his best college games, scoring 22 points on 10-for-16 shooting with seven rebounds. He scored 20 points after halftime and made big basket after big basket down the stretch.

What’s next: The Commodores advanced to play SEC regular-season champion Florida in Saturday’s semifinals. The Commodores lost two games to the Gators during the regular season, losing 65-61 in overtime in Gainesville, Fla., on Feb. 1 and 86-76 in Nashville on March 5. Mississippi State finished the season with 17-14 record and might possibly earn an NIT invitation. Coach Rick Stansbury’s job might be in jeopardy after a trouble-filled season.

Video: Florida's Alex Tyus

March, 12, 2011

Mark Schlabach and Florida senior Alex Tyus discuss the Gators' 85-74 victory over Tennessee on Friday night.
ATLANTA -- Maybe this Florida team really is different from the last few teams coach Billy Donovan has put on the floor.

After three straight early-round exits in the previous three SEC tournaments, Florida defeated Tennessee 85-74 in Friday night’s quarterfinals at the Georgia Dome. It was Florida’s third victory this season over UT, and the Gators advanced to play the winner of Friday night’s late game between Mississippi State and Vanderbilt in Saturday’s semifinals.

Florida, the SEC regular-season champion, had each of its five starters score 10 points or more. Guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker led the Gators with 22 and 17 points, respectively.

Turning point: The score was tied 50-50 with 12:09 to go. After Vernon Macklin’s layup gave the Gators a 52-50 lead with 11:48 left, UT coach Bruce Pearl was hit with a technical foul. Boynton made both foul shots for a four-point lead, and then the Gators started to pull away.

Key players: Florida’s guards struggled with UT’s aggressive defense in the first half, but Boynton and Walker took control in the second. They combined to score 39 points on 10-for-20 shooting, including 5-for-11 on 3-pointers. Boynton went 10-for-10 at the foul line.

Key stat: 11-4: Florida’s record away from the O’Dome in true road and neutral-site games. It’s the second-best mark away from home, trailing only Kansas’ 13-1 record entering Friday’s action.

Miscellaneous: The Volunteers squandered a fantastic performance from freshman Tobias Harris, who scored 25 points on 10-for-17 shooting. Harris scored 18 points in the first half.

What’s next: The Gators, who advanced to play the winner of Friday night’s late game between Mississippi State and Vanderbilt in Saturday’s semifinals, still have a realistic chance at a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. Tennessee seems to be in good shape for an NCAA at-large bid with a 19-14 record and several high-end victories.

ATLANTA -- Kentucky freshman Brandon Knight missed all six of his 3-point attempts in his first SEC tournament game on Friday.

Wildcats forward Terrence Jones, another freshman All-American, missed two 3-pointers and was 3-for-11 from the floor.

“Brandon didn’t have one of his better floor games, and Terrence didn’t play very well throughout the game,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “But they should have been anxious. They’re 19 years old.”

Unlike last year’s Kentucky team, which was led by freshman All-Americans John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, the Wildcats might not need their rookies to play great every night to advance.

Even with Knight and Jones combining to shoot only 8-for-26 from the floor, the Wildcats survived with a 75-66 victory over Ole Miss in the SEC tourney quarterfinals at the Georgia Dome.

The Wildcats will play Alabama in Saturday’s semifinals.

“We’re figuring it out,” Calipari said. “We are. It’s hard. We’re starting three freshmen and three inexperienced guys, who didn’t play much last year. So it’s a new team that’s just learning to play together. It’s not just me teaching them.”

The last two weeks showed the 'Cats are starting to come together. After struggling on the road throughout the SEC season, Kentucky won at Tennessee 64-58 in its March 6 regular-season finale, and then won another close game in Atlanta.

“I kept telling them late in the game, ‘I’m really happy this is a close game because we’re going to be in some other ones,’” Calipari said. “We need this. I want to see which men step up and make plays. We’ve got to all defend and we’ve got to chase down these rebounds, because you know they’re going to take tough shots. If they make a couple of tough shots, I don’t care, just play.”

Kentucky controlled the game from the start and led wire-to-wire, but the Rebels trimmed UK’s lead to 68-66 on Chris Warren’s 3-pointer with 1:46 to play.

That’s when Knight showed he might be a guy that can carry the Wildcats on his back during March. Knight, from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., scored UK’s final seven points, including a big jumper over Warren to make it 70-66 with 1:12 left.

“I’ve got to make sure, no matter what I’m doing, just to keep running the team,” Knight said. “Even though my shot’s not falling, I [have to] make sure that my main purpose for this team is running this team, making sure we were getting our sets and stuff like that.”

Knight finished with 17 points on 5-for-15 shooting with six assists and four turnovers. He also grabbed three critical rebounds in the final minute and was fouled each time.

“Those rebounds down the stretch were critical, and he chased them down to help us win,” Calipari said. “He didn’t play one of his better floor games. I know he’s a better player than he played today, but did what he had to do to help us win.”

A chippy, tight game nearly turned into an ugly incident in the tunnel of the Georgia Dome after the teams left the floor. Ole Miss forward Reginald Buckner and Kentucky guard DeAndre Liggins exchanged words, and witnesses told that Buckner threw a punch before he was pulled away by teammates.

“I said something like, ‘Y’all are going home,’” Liggins said. “He was mad, I guess. He tried to come after me. I just stepped back and he came after me.”

SEC officials spoke to officials from both schools, but there will likely be no disciplinary action against players from either school.

Before the start of Friday night’s SEC quarterfinals game between Florida and Tennessee, the teams used separate tunnels to the floor.

“That’s just part of what I do,” Liggins said. “I know how to react and how not to react. He was frustrated. I guess he was frustrated they lost.”

Video: Kentucky's DeAndre Liggins

March, 11, 2011

Kentucky's DeAndre Liggins discusses the 75-66 victory against Ole Miss.
ATLANTA -- Kentucky freshman Brandon Knight didn’t make many of his shots in his first SEC tournament game on Friday.

But Knight made the shots that mattered most in the Wildcats’ 75-66 victory over Ole Miss in the SEC tourney quarterfinals at the Georgia Dome.

Knight scored the Wildcats’ final seven points, after the Rebels pulled to within 68-66 on Chris Warren's 3-pointer with 1:46 to play. On UK’s next trip, Knight drilled a jumper over Warren to make it 70-66, and then Knight made five of six foul shots in the final 41.2 seconds to seal the victory.

Turning point: Knight, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., made two huge baskets down the stretch. Before hitting the jumper over Warren that all but sealed the win, Knight made a jumper to give UK a five-point lead with 4:18 to go.

Key player: UK freshman Doron Lamb, who has started the past seven games after mostly playing off the bench, scored 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting. The guard from Queens, N.Y., shot 3-for-4 on 3-pointers and had four rebounds and three assists.

Key stat: 1,998. Warren, a senior from Orlando, Fla., finished his four-year career with 1,998 points. He scored 20 against UK and might get a chance to break the 2,000-point barrier in the NIT.

Miscellaneous: UK’s highly regarded freshmen, Knight and forward Terrence Jones, shot a combined 8-for-26, including 0-for-8 on 3-pointers.

What’s next: Kentucky will play Alabama in Saturday’s semifinals. The Crimson Tide upset the ‘Cats 68-66 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Jan. 18. The Rebels finished the season with a 20-13 record and will probably have a chance to play in the NIT.

Video: Kentucky fends off Ole Miss

March, 11, 2011

Doron Lamb scored 19 points and Brandon Knight added 17 to lead Kentucky past Mississippi, 75-66.

ATLANTA -- With the score tied at 53 in the final seconds of regulation in Friday’s quarterfinals game of the SEC tournament, Alabama forward Chris Hines saw the basketball leave Georgia guard Dustin Ware’s hands.

“I was right in the middle of the paint and saw it coming down,” Hines said.

Fortunately for the Crimson Tide, Bulldogs coach Mark Fox called timeout just before Ware launched a running 3-pointer. Ware’s shot banked in, but officials waved it off with 0.8 seconds to play in regulation.

“Thank God their coach called timeout,” Hines said. “That would have been very painful to watch.”

Instead, the ending was very painful for Georgia, which blew a 13-point lead in the final six minutes of regulation and lost 65-59 in overtime. Alabama beat the Bulldogs for the second time in seven days, after handing them a 65-57 loss in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in the March 5 regular-season finale.

Bama advanced to play the winner of Friday’s quarterfinals game between Kentucky and Ole Miss in Saturday’s semifinals at the Georgia Dome.

The SEC West champion Crimson Tide might have needed this victory more than UGA in terms of receiving an NCAA at-large bid. Unless the Tide win the conference tournament and the automatic NCAA berth that comes with it, both teams now figure to be anxious on Selection Sunday.

“We’ve been hearing we needed one or two more [wins] to get into the NCAAs,” Alabama forward JaMychal Green said. “Hopefully, we’re in now.”

As Hines ran to Alabama’s locker room, he shouted: “You see that, Joe Lunardi?”

Afterward, Hines playfully criticized ESPN bracket guru Joe Lunardi, who had the Crimson Tide among his first four teams out of the NCAAs entering Friday’s action.

“Thanks for having our backs, Joe Lunardi,” Hines said. “Thanks for having my back, ESPN. It seems like every time we win a game, he moves us farther back. We’re just not going to stop until we’re automatic qualifiers and they can’t keep us out.”

Much to the delight of Hines we’re certain, Lunardi sent an update at 5:30 ET that had the Crimson Tide as the last team in his projected field.

At least Hines knows the NCAA selection committee might have a difficult time including Georgia in the field without including the Crimson Tide.

Entering Friday’s game, UGA’s RPI rating (No. 39 nationally) was more than twice as good as Alabama’s (No. 84). And the Bulldogs’ strength of schedule rating (No. 42) was much better than the Tide’s (No. 153).

“I think that we are a tournament team,” Fox said. “If I don’t call that timeout and the ball goes in, you know, you don’t get to ask that question. That’s how close it is. But this team, I think, they have put themselves in a position to get serious consideration.”

So has Alabama, thanks to its big comeback at the Dome.

“This is the kind of team we’ve been all year,” Hines said. “We scrap and fight and don’t quit.”

The Tide will get to fight for 40 minutes more on Saturday.

Video: Alabama's Chris Hines

March, 11, 2011

Mark Schlabach talks with Alabama’s Chris Hines after the win over Georgia.
ATLANTA – Georgia guard Dustin Ware's 3-pointer didn’t count.

But Alabama forward Tony Mitchell's did.

The Crimson Tide rallied from a 13-point deficit in the final six minutes of regulation, and then forced overtime after Ware’s 3-pointer with less than a second to go was waved off because Bulldogs coach Mark Fox called timeout before the shot. Alabama then scored the final six points in overtime for a 65-59 victory in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament at the Georgia Dome.

With the score tied at 59, Mitchell put the Crimson Tide ahead for good with a 3-pointer with 1:33 to play.

Turning point: Georgia dominated most of the game and had a 49-36 lead with six minutes to go in regulation. But the Crimson Tide went on a 9-0 run over the next 2 minutes, 40 seconds and then tied the game at 53 on point guard Trevor Releford’s layup with 42 seconds to play in regulation.

Key player: Alabama forward JaMychal Green scored 20 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. He went 12-for-14 at the foul line and scored 16 points after the half.

Key stat: After making its first two shots in overtime, Georgia missed its last seven.

Miscellaneous: Georgia forward Travis Leslie scored 24 points on 9-for-19 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds. Georgia forward Trey Thompkins had 19 points.

What’s next: Alabama advanced to Saturday’s semifinals, where it will play the winner of Friday’s quarterfinals game between Kentucky and Ole Miss. More importantly, the Crimson Tide defeated the Bulldogs for the second time in a week, which might be important on Selection Sunday. Georgia dropped to 21-11 overall, which might make the Dogs a little anxious on Sunday.

ATLANTA -- As Tennessee center Brian Williams sat in the corner of the Volunteers’ locker room in the Georgia Dome on Thursday night, he wasn’t interested in talking about his winning shot in the final minute of a 74-68 victory over Arkansas in the first round of the SEC tournament.

Instead, the fast-talking senior from the Bronx wanted to describe his only 3-pointer of the game.

“They just showed me my stats,” Williams said. “That was the 37th 3-pointer of my career, and I’ve made eight. That’s what I do. The numbers don’t lie.”

Actually, Williams has shot 5-for-14 on 3-pointers during his four-year college career. But who’s really counting?

[+] EnlargeBrian Williams
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTennessee's Brian Williams had nine points -- including the game-winning shot -- and eight rebounds against Arkansas.
“Every day,” Williams said. “That’s what I do.”

“That’s all he does,” said Tennessee guard Scotty Hopson, who was sitting on the stool next to Williams. “And ball handling.”

“They should make it my play instead of his,” Williams said.

Williams made perhaps the biggest shot of Tennessee’s season on Thursday night, albeit one that came much closer to the basket.

And Williams nearly wasn’t on the floor to shoot it.

After the Razorbacks wiped out a 16-point deficit in five minutes and tied the score at 68 with 2:08 to go, Williams was hit in the eye by Hogs forward Delvon Johnson. Williams lay on the floor for several minutes and had to be helped to UT’s bench.

“I was punched in the eye,” Williams said. “It was flagrant. I think I got punched in the eye twice. I’m not going to feel it until the morning, though. I just had to suck it up.”

With the score tied at 68, the Razorbacks had a chance to take the lead, but Johnson walked while trying to spin around UT freshman Tobias Harris with 1:10 to play.

Williams came back into the game. When Harris drove to the basket with less than a minute to go, Johnson left Williams to defend him. Harris made a nice interior pass to Williams, who scored the winning layup with 55 seconds to go.

“I saw his man move onto me, and I looked for him,” said Harris, who finished with 20 points. “That’s what we do.”

Harris made two foul shots with 33.8 seconds left to seal the victory.

For several minutes on Thursday night, it seemed the Volunteers were going to squander away another big lead, just like they’ve done too many times this season.

“They were making tough shots and you couldn’t get any rebounds,” Williams said. “There wasn’t anything you could do about it.”

The Vols didn’t help themselves, though, by missing 11 shots and committing two turnovers during their nearly five-minute drought.

“I was just thinking, ‘Dang, we’re getting to that time of the game again, when we let someone make a run to get back into the game,’” Harris said.

[+] EnlargeBrian Williams
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesBrian Williams almost didn't make it back onto the court after a hard foul in the second half.
Instead, UT found a way to survive and advanced to play SEC regular-season champion Florida in Friday’s quarterfinals.

The Volunteers lost two very close games against the Gators during the regular season, 81-75 in overtime in Knoxville, Tenn., on Jan. 11 and 61-60 in Gainesville, Fla., on Feb. 12.

“They were both close games,” Williams said. “They know we can play with them, and we know they can play with us. It’s just going to come down to who wants it more.”

With Arkansas’ season probably coming to an end, the Razorbacks have to decide if they want coach John Pelphrey anymore. The Hogs finished 18-13 and will likely miss the NCAA tournament for the third season in a row.

Pelphrey, who has a 69-59 record in four seasons with the Hogs, wouldn’t comment on his future at the school after the game.

“We’ll talk about our team tonight and we’ll talk about the SEC tournament,” Pelphrey said. “There will be a time for that reflection here at some point in time. I look forward to it.”

As poorly as Pelphrey’s night ended, his day didn’t start much better. On Thursday morning, posted a photo of him posing with Sylvan Hills (Ark.) High prospect Archie Goodwin and teammate Trey Smith at a high school tournament last December. Goodwin and Smith are high school juniors, so Pelphrey’s off-campus contact with them would be a violation of NCAA rules.

“We’re certainly very sensitive to those things and take all that stuff very, very seriously,” Pelphrey said. “It will be looked into with regards to our compliance people, and if there’s something there, we’ll certainly cooperate and be forthcoming.”

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl knows about NCAA investigations all too well. He was suspended from coaching in his team’s first eight SEC games by league commissioner Michael Slive, after Pearl lied to NCAA investigators about having illegal contact with recruits. Pearl is still awaiting to learn whether or not he’ll be penalized any more by the NCAA.

“We’ll find out,” Pearl said. “We have been very accountable and responsible for what’s happened, and we’re dealing with it. We’re trying to lead through it. The penalties that we have imposed on [ourselves] are very severe and we’re managing. We’re trying to overcome, but it’s part of the process. Just the fact that it has to get discussed some is a good deterrent.”