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 - Marquis Teague was noticeably down in the dumps.
After what he called one of his worst games of the season, the freshman point guard was wearing the disappointment on his sleeve. Just about everyone on the team noticed, so John Calipari called him into his hotel room Friday night to talk to him and then Anthony Davis came up to his room to restore his confidence.
"He told me to keep my head up, that I'll be OK, and just come out and play today," Teague said.
Teague also had a promise for Davis and the rest of his teammates following his two-point, four-turnover outing against LSU.
"It's never going to happen again," Teague said, according to Davis. "I'm here for you all."
Teague didn't break his word in Kentucky's 74-71 victory over Florida in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, scoring 15 points and dishing out five assists in an impressive bounce-back performance.
"I was a little frustrated with myself," Teague said. "I didn't play how I wanted to play (Friday) and I feel like I let my team down."
The 6-foot-2 point guard didn't disappoint Saturday. As Florida torched the nets, it was often Teague who answered with big shots and layups in traffic.
"That's our brother," sophomore forward Terrence Jones said. "I knew he was not going to let that happen again. I still felt he played OK; he just didn't make any shots. Today, he took that upon himself to change that factor and be more aggressive and get more layups for us."
Teague's biggest play of the game, though, came at the free-throw line. After Erik Murphy banked in a shot to cut the score to 70-68, Florida fouled Teague and stuck him at the line with 14 seconds left and a chance to ice the game.
Earlier this season, Teague was in the same situation in the North Carolina game but he missed the front end of a one-and-one. This time around, Teague had two shots to ice the game, and he calmly sunk both.
"I told my team I was going to knock them down," Teague said. "I said, 'Don't worry about them, I'm going to knock them down.' That's what I did. I stepped up. I was confident."
Teague's confidence stemmed from his talk with his coach and his teammates. When things get tough, it's good to have a shoulder - and a brother - to lean on, and Teague was grateful that his teammates were there for him.
"I feel like a leader today," Teague said. "I did what Coach Cal asked me to do and my teammates wanted me to do, just come out and lead."
Jones helps spark Cats again
For the second game in a row, Terrence Jones served as the spark as Kentucky made a second-half run to overcome a five-point deficit.
On Friday against LSU, Jones scored every point in a 9-0 run that gave UK a four-point lead with 12:10 to play. The Wildcats would lead the rest of the way.
In an SEC Tournament semifinal matchup with Florida, Jones scored seven points in the Cats' 14-0 run to grab a nine-point lead with 6:59 left. Once again, UK would never trail again.
"We all go to one another and whoever has a mismatch just really tries to attack them," Jones said. "I just feel the last couple games that the team felt I had a little bit more of an advantage and I just tried to attack."
Averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds over two games, Jones is an early candidate for tournament MVP honors should Kentucky defeat Vanderbilt on Sunday in the SEC final.
"He's just back," Anthony Davis said of his frontcourt mate. "Terrence, he wants to be an exceptional basketball player. Guys are talking bad about him and he wants to prove everybody wrong and show what type of basketball player he is."
Against the Gators, Jones even broke out a slick behind-the-back dribble in the open floor, a throwback to his high school days.
"Coach didn't let me bring that to Kentucky," Jones said. "He told me to leave that at home. I just told my mom to bring it when she came (to New Orleans for the SEC Tournament)."
Miller still looking to shake off struggles
Coming into this weekend, signs pointed to Darius Miller having a big set of games. The SEC's Sixth Man of the Year was the MVP of the conference tournament and had 20 points the last game he played in New Orleans Arena in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
Instead, Miller has yet to score a point through two SEC Tournament games, missing all five shots he has attempted.
Miller has been through and survived tough times in his four-year UK career though, so he's not concerned.
"I've experienced worse," Miller said. "Freshman year, I went to the NIT. Last year, I kind of struggled some games. I've struggled in games before. I'm not worried about it."
Without question, Miller will take a couple scoreless games and a 32-1 record for the season over missing the NCAA Tournament any day.
Gators run with the Cats
Opponents have tried everything imaginable this season to figure out a weakness in Kentucky's game.
They've slowed it down, mucked it up and played a zone. After Arkansas was drilled by 23 points in trying to run and gun with the Cats in January, the line of thinking was speeding it up against UK was only determining the loss a little bit faster.
Perhaps not. Florida pushed the tempo Saturday to degrees of success. The Gators were pedal to the metal for much of the afternoon and ended up scoring 1.15 points per possession, the highest average UK has allowed this season.
"It was a very fast tempo," Davis said. "During the game me and Patric (Young) always talk and he said, 'Yeah, we just try to run with you all. You all like to run, so we've got to try to run.' The tempo was very fast. Both teams like to get up and down and get easy baskets. That's what it was today."
Kentucky's points per possession was slightly higher at 1.19.
UK looks ahead to Vanderbilt rematch
With a 65-53 win over Ole Miss immediately following Kentucky's defeat of Florida, third-seeded Vanderbilt set up a third game this season against Kentucky with the SEC Tournament title on the line.
The Commodores (23-10) played the Cats to a near-draw in the two regular-season meetings, holding late second-half leads before losing by 15 combined points.
"They're a good team and hopefully we can just execute like we did today," Jones said.
Vanderbilt, boasting the SEC's two leading scorers with John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor, has a reputation as a dynamic offensive team, but the Commodores have held Georgia and Ole Miss to an average of just 47 points in their two tournament wins.
Calipari and UK came to New Orleans looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament, but now that only Vanderbilt stands in the way of their 28th SEC Tournament title, the Cats find themselves really wanting to win it.
"It would mean a lot for us and our fans," Doron Lamb said. "We have been winning a lot of games so far in a row, at least like 25 games straight (UK has won 24 consecutive games). We just want to keep on winning. We ain't going to try to lose no more games since Indiana and we're just trying to compete for 40 minutes."