(1) Kentucky 60 (8) LSU 51
The Kentucky Wildcats had won all 16 Southeastern Conference regular season games they played this season. Waiting for the NCAA Tournament, their arrival at the SEC Tournament placed them in a position where they would simply not have as much motivation as each of their opponents. Such was the case in the first SEC quarterfinal on Friday at the New Orleans Arena. The LSU Tigers threw the kitchen sink at Kentucky and briefly led early in the second half, making this game closer than many people expected yet underscoring the fact that Kentucky is not placing supreme emphasis on this particular tournament. Kentucky was able to handle an eighth-seeded foe, but as this tournament goes along, higher-seeded teams might have an opening to give Kentucky a conference loss.
Anthony Davis was, as you’d expect, the difference maker for Kentucky in this game. The freshman delivered three baskets on three straight possessions late in the second half to fend off an LSU rally. Davis finished with 12 points, 14 rebounds, and six blocked shots in another imposing performance. Kentucky struggled, though, from three-point range, hitting just 1 of 8 shots and showing the rest of the SEC that the Wildcats are very mortal from the perimeter. Kentucky now plays Florida in the SEC semifinals. If the Gators can hit long-distance shots, the Wildcats will be forced to draw from a deeper well of energy if they want to win. The question will then become, “Will Kentucky want to win badly enough one week before the NCAA Tournament?”
(4) Florida 66 (5) Alabama 63
Given the fact that one of its key reserves, forward Will Yeguete, was lost for the season with an injury a few weeks ago, the Florida Gators were probably not expected to do much at the SEC Tournament. Their ability to beat the Alabama Crimson Tide in the quarterfinals represents a strong statement, a declaration that this team’s resolve might be greater than a lot of skeptics think. Florida did not play an elegant game, but it played a resilient game to move to the semifinals for a date with Kentucky. Coach Billy Donovan’s team withstood a few turnovers in the final minutes to prevail, aided by some shaky moments from the Tide.
Following a Florida turnover, Alabama’s JaMychal Green had a chance to tie the game at 64 with two foul shots at the 21-second mark of regulation, but Green missed one of the two foul shots. Then, Florida dribbled and passed the ball for 11 whole seconds before Alabama fouled. The unfathomable lack of awareness by Bama cost the Tide at least one extra possession if now two. Florida’s Kenny Boynton, fouled with 10 seconds left, hit two foul shots. Bama, given only one shot attempt when it could have had more, misfired just before the final horn, and the Gators advanced.
(7) Ole Miss (2) Tennessee (OT)
A week filled with bubble teams failing to get the job done continued at the SEC Tournament, as the Tennessee Volunteers – legitimately in the conversation following a late-season surge – stumbled against the Mississippi Rebels in New Orleans, surely knocking themselves out of NCAA consideration and into the NIT. Tennessee tied the game with two seconds left on a 25-foot banked-in three by guard Skylar McBee, but Ole Miss impressively regrouped in overtime, scoring nine of the first 11 points in the period to take a 70-63 lead with 1:29 left. Tennessee shaved the Ole Miss lead to two, at 72-70, with only 15 seconds left, and Ole Miss appeared to have turned the ball over on an inbounds play with 13 seconds to go, but the officials missed an out of bounds call and mistakenly awarded the ball to the Rebels, who sealed the deal at the foul line. Four players scored in double figures for Ole Miss, led by Terrance Henry, who scored 19 points and snagged seven rebounds.
(3) Vanderbilt 63 (11) Georgia 41
The Vanderbilt Commodores haven’t just struggled in the NCAA Tournament over the years, they’ve also labored in the SEC Tournament. Friday night in the final SEC quarterfinal, they took care of business against the 11th-place team in the league. Vanderbilt locked down on defense in the second half, allowing just 16 points to the Georgia Bulldogs after halftime. The defensive display carried Vanderbilt into the semifinals for a clash with the Ole Miss Rebels.
Georgia hit only 32 percent of its shots and only 2 of 17 threes. The Bulldogs were hounded by Vanderbilt in the second half, which is why a one-point Georgia lead at the intermission turned into a runaway for the third-seeded Commodores. What made this 22-point win all the more impressive for Vanderbilt is that it hit only six threes in 25 attempts. If Vanderbilt can supplement this level of defense with good shooting, it can beat any team in the country.
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer