SEC Tournament – Quarterfinals
(1) Florida 80 (9) LSU 58
Florida advances to play (4) Alabama in the semifinals on March 16
The LSU Tigers ran into a much better team on Friday afternoon in the first quarterfinal of the SEC Tournament. The Florida Gators won the outright regular season championship in their conference, and they’re looking to add a tournament title to their hardware collection.
Florida got off to a great start in pursuit of another trophy. The Gators put away LSU early in the second half to rest their starters and stay fresh for a semifinal date with Alabama. Florida’s Erik Murphy delivered a career performance, scoring 27 points on 11-of-15 shooting while snapping down 12 rebounds. Florida hit 51 percent of its field goal attempts and 55 percent of its threes, all while holding LSU to 33-percent shooting for the day.
(4) Alabama 58 (5) Tennessee 48
Alabama advances to play (1) Florida in the semifinals on March 16
The Tennessee Volunteers knew how much they needed to beat the Alabama Crimson Tide on Friday afternoon in the second quarterfinal of the SEC Tournament in Nashville. That knowledge, however, weighed them down instead of liberating them, and as a result, the Vols will have to endure a long wait on Selection Sunday.
Tennessee might still make the field of 68 due to Kentucky’s SEC quarterfinal loss to Vanderbilt plus other bubble-based results in other corners of the country, but the Vols can’t feel comfortable about their situation after laying an egg against Alabama. Tennessee simply didn’t shoot the rock very well. The Big Orange squeezed the orange too tightly, hitting just 32 percent of their field goal attempts and making only 7 of 14 free throws. Jordan McRae, who had been shooting and scoring at a torrid pace for the Vols in recent weeks, hit just 3 of 13 shots and finished with a meager 9 points. Alabama’s defense bothered Tennessee all game long, forcing the Vols away from the basket and limiting the impact of UT’s brawny big man, Jarnell Stokes, who gobbled up 13 rebounds but scored a modest 12 points.
Alabama took care of business at the foul line as well, making 15 of 19 tries while Tennessee faltered at the other end of the court. Trevor Releford (14 points) and Levi Randolph (15) combined for 29 points to lead the charge for the Crimson Tide, who must beat Florida on Saturday in the SEC semifinals to have any hope of an at-large bid.
(10) Vanderbilt 64 (2) Kentucky 48
Vanderbilt advances to play (3) Ole Miss in the semifinals on March 16
The defending national champions in college basketball will probably not be allowed to defend that title in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. That’s not a guarantee, but the above sentence is not a misprint, either.
Kentucky had to, at the very least, take care of the mediocre yet improving Vanderbilt Commodores on Friday evening in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. The Wildcats had to win at least one game on a neutral court to show that they were still a balanced, capable team without big man Nerlens Noel, whose February injury knocked him out for the rest of the season. Kentucky entered this game without a single non-Noel win away from Rupp Arena. The Selection Committee needed to see UK claim at least one game away from the Cats’ home floor, and now that Big Blue has been blasted by Vandy, it’s more likely than not that Kentucky will miss the NCAA tournament, a frankly unfathomable occurrence for head coach John Calipari.
Vanderbilt outplayed Kentucky from start to finish, save for a few very brief stretches that the Commodores were able to minimize. Five players scored at least nine points for Vanderbilt, which hit 50 percent of its field goal attempts while Kentucky made just 35 percent of its tries. Vanderbilt doubled Kentucky’s number of three-point makes (8 to 4) and outscored Big Blue at the foul line (10-8). Kentucky’s backcourt combination of Julius Mays and Ryan Harrow hit just 4 of 23 shots as a pair, a level of inefficiency the Cats couldn’t overcome.
Now, Kentucky will have to endure a Selection Sunday afternoon that is unlikely to bring good news. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, is now two wins away from a very improbable automatic bid to the NCAA tournament… and a successful defense of its 2012 SEC Tournament championship.
(3) Ole Miss 64 (6) Missouri 62
Ole Miss advances to play (10) Vanderbilt in the semifinals on March 16
The Ole Miss Rebels seemed to be ticketed for the NIT, but now, they just might be able to make a late backdoor charge to the NCAA tournament, saving coach Andy Kennedy’s job.
No, Ole Miss is hardly a certainty for the Big Dance, but the Rebels dramatically improved their odds of reaching Bracketville by storming back in the second half to stun the Missouri Tigers late Friday night in Nashville. Down 42-28 early in the second half, the Rebels roared to life and tied Missouri on multiple occasions in the final minutes before getting a game-winning 10-foot floater from Derrick Millinghaus with 1.1 seconds left to claim an exhilarating triumph.
Ole Miss held Missouri to just six points in the final 8:52 of this contest, as the Tigers – who are great in Mizzou Arena – reaffirmed just how undependable they are away from their home floor. Missouri’s drought enabled Ole Miss to tie the score at 59-all with 1:14 left. Mizzou guard Phil Pressey then hit a three-pointer to give the Tigers a 62-59 lead, but Millinghaus – off a great feed from teammate Marshall Henderson – knocked down a triple of his own to tie the score with 29 seconds to go.
Then came the key play of the game. Missouri senior Laurence Bowers inexplicably threw a lob inbounds pass to the midcourt line, with no teammate there to gather the ball. Henderson picked it off, and after a timeout, Millinghaus got inside the foul line and swished his floater, giving Ole Miss new life in the NCAA tournament chase. Ole Miss must beat Vanderbilt on Saturday in the SEC semifinals, but if it does, it will bolster its case for NCAA inclusion while also moving within one win of an automatic bid, the best way for the Rebels to enter the field of 68.