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Jones, Kidd-Gilchrist help UK overcome 'lackadaisical' performance

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Terrence Jones had his second double-double of the season in UK's 60-51 win over LSU in an SEC Tournament quarterfinal. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Terrence Jones had his second double-double of the season in UK's 60-51 win over LSU in an SEC Tournament quarterfinal. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In an effort to bring you the most comprehensive coverage of the Kentucky basketball team's postseason run, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be teaming up throughout UK's journey in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. You can find stories on the team at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog.

NEW ORLEANS - The first one's always the hardest, John Calipari said Thursday. Spoken like a prophet, his team struggled in the first game of its postseason.

The top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats, heavy favorites to win their 28th Southeastern Conference Tournament title, needed herculean efforts from their frontline Friday to outlast a scrappy LSU team and advance to the semifinals. UK will play No. 22/19 Florida (23-9) on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET.

UK (30-1) pulled away at New Orleans Arena in the second half thanks to a pivotal 9-0 run by Terrence Jones, but it was a scare - or was it a wakeup call? - for a team that many think is going to waltz through the league tourney.

"We came out lackadaisical, like this team's not going to play like their life is on the line," freshman forward Anthony Davis said. "We thought we were going to come out like we knew we were going to win, so let's just go out here. We didn't have the right mindset going in. Guys were playing for themselves at the beginning, so we had to turn it around in order to win the game."

Davis, saddled with foul trouble and plagued by turnover problems in the first half, closed out the game strong with 11 points and eight rebounds after halftime (he finished with 12 and 14), but it was Jones who willed Kentucky to victory when LSU turned up the heat.

Trailing 35-30 early in the second half, Jones used his postseason experience and carried the Cats with nine straight points.

The first two baskets came via dunk, one on a lob feed from Darius Miller and the other on a baseline drive, and he finished the run with a pair of free throws after an aggressive take on LSU star Johnny O'Bryant (who ended up fouling out, largely due to Jones).

"Just keep giving him the ball," Calipari told his team. "Make them make plays."

The Cats fed the hot hand as Jones reeled off five more points. When Jones sank two free throws with 12:10 left in the game, UK led 39-35 and never trailed again. Kentucky held LSU without a point for five minutes and 11 seconds during Jones' personal run.

"I didn't want to lose," said Jones, who finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, his second double-double of the season. "It was real close. LSU came out playing real aggressive and just attacking us on defense by going after steals and being on us. I just think in the second half we needed to run our plays and execute and just play aggressive like we've been doing all season."

Led by Anthony Hickey's five steals, LSU turned up the defensive pressure and forced UK into 18 turnovers. The nine in the first half led to 14 more LSU field-goal attempts in the first half.

"They caused them," Coach Cal said. "It wasn't us. They just got up in us and made it tough."

But it sure looked like some of the Cats snoozed through the first half. As nearly 90 percent of the 18,207 fans in New Orleans buzzed for Kentucky, the Cats couldn't hold on to the ball, struggled to hit shots and seemed a step too slow.

"It just got too physical for guys," Coach Cal said. "I had a couple guys I couldn't leave in the game."

Had it not been for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's first-half play, UK may have been out of striking distance when Jones went on his second-half run.

With Davis on the bench in foul trouble, the freshman forward, as he's done in so many crucial situations this year, put the team on his back in the first half with 10 points and seven rebounds. He finished a rebound short of a double-double (19 points and nine rebounds), but he was basically the only option in an ugly first half, so much so that Calipari told his team to go give the ball to Kidd-Gilchrist.

"Not any of these other guys are ready for this," Calipari said, "(so) let's go at Michael. I looked and I said, 'He's the only one competing, so throw it to him.' "

At one point UK went right at Kidd-Gilchrist on three straight possessions in the post, and he and Doron Lamb scored Kentucky's final 18 points to close out the first half.

"Michael was carrying us today," freshman point guard Marquis Teague said. "He was our offense and he was rebounding for us. They couldn't stop him. They had no answer for him. We just kept calling his number as much as possible."

Davis, who was named SEC Player of the Year earlier this week, closed out LSU in the final 10 minutes and several key blocks to finish with 12 points and 14 rebounds, his 15th double-double of the year.

UK had just five players score on the day, and that includes Teague, who scored just two points. Miller, last year's SEC Tournament MVP, was held scoreless, as was the rest of UK's bench, first time Kentucky's bench has been held without a point in 104 games.

Teague and Miller combined to go 0 for 7 from the floor with seven turnovers.

"I grabbed Marquis Teague right after the game, he and I by ourselves, and I said, 'Look, I got all the faith in you in the world. You keep them honest shooting jumpers. If they're not playing you and you want to let it go, you let it go. And then if you don't to play that way, then you cut it to the rim,' " Calipari said.

Whatever may have been the ultimate root of UK's struggles Friday, Calipari said it could be a blueprint for the rest of the postseason. Teams have tried to diagram every which way to beat Kentucky this year, but as Calipari said earlier this week, there haven't been many games where his team has laid a "dud."

This one was close.

"This is a good game for us," Coach Cal said. "They were ready to do some things. I'll go back and watch the tape and see what adjustments (we need to make) because people will be watching the tape saying this is how you need to play them."

According to Davis, the only adjustment UK needs to make is between the ears.


"If we don't come out and play then we can lose," Davis said. "I think it was a great game for us to play to get our mindset right going into our next game."

And the rest of the postseason.

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