Kentucky Rallies, Defeats Alabama to Advance to SEC Semifinals
March 12, 2010
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - John Calipari only hopes his young Kentucky Wildcats' first postseason game delivered the message he's been trying to send - tournament time requires more intensity and desire than the regular season.
John Wall had 23 points, including seven straight in the second half to give the Wildcats the lead for good, and No. 2 Kentucky overcame an 11-point deficit Friday in beating Alabama 73-67 in the Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinals.
"I'm trying to convince this young team of 19-year-olds that either you want it more than they do or they want it more than you do," Calipari said.
"And whoever's in that mode in this tournament and the next one is going to win. And it's just hard. I mean you think you've cracked it, and they've understood, then they come out the next game, and you know well, 'He pushed me, and I tried.' He tried harder. You've got to try harder. All those kinds of things are what we're dealing with right now."
The win gave Kentucky its 12th 30-win season - the most by any school - and the Wildcats' first since 2003 when they went 32-4. It's also the fifth straight such season for Calipari and seventh overall to tie him with Connecticut's Jim Calhoun for third-most among coaches.
Kentucky (30-2) will play either No. 15 Tennessee or Mississippi in the semifinals Saturday in its quest to add a 26th tournament title to the 44th regular-season championship.
Patrick Patterson scored 20 and Eric Bledsoe 10 for Kentucky. DeMarcus Cousins, who had 18 double-doubles this season averaging 15.6 points and 10 rebounds per game, finished with seven points and eight boards.
Mikhail Torrance led Alabama (17-15) with 20 points. JaMychal Green added 14 and Tony Mitchell 10. Alabama outrebounded Kentucky 45-33 and scored 22 second-chance points in jumping out to the early lead and staying close until the end.
"For us to outrebound them I think shows our guys competed, we fought, but it wasn't enough to win tonight," said Alabama first-year coach Anthony Grant, who's now hoping for an NIT berth.
"To say a tough defeat would be an understatement. Our guys came out today, and we played to win and certainly had opportunities in the game," he said. "Unfortunately, we weren't able to finish."
The Tide just couldn't match Wall or the crowd in essentially a road game in Rupp Arena South as Wildcat fans painted the inside of Bridgestone Arena blue.
Kentucky improved to 112-22 in this tournament and 9-1 in Nashville. The Wildcats now are 4-1 against Alabama in the quarterfinals, a program that ranks second to Kentucky in the number of tournament wins and titles in the league.
The Wildcats lead the series 100-35, including nine of the last 11 and five straight, even though fans didn't get to crank up into a full roar until the second half. That's when Wall took over and put Kentucky ahead to stay with his spurt, the last a three-point play to put the Wildcats up 43-42, their first lead since they were up 8-7.
"They told me the whole game to push it in transition, but I wasn't getting there. I was trying to find my teammates," Wall said. "Second half, I found the gaps and got into the lane."
The freshman had brought fans to their feet with a driving layup, and waved his arms to urge them to turn up the volume as he went back down the floor after his next inside bucket. He followed with another layup to tie it at 42 with 13:51 remaining, drawing the foul that let him put the Wildcats ahead with the free throw.
"He's a great point guard," said Torrance, who tried to guard Wall. "There's a reason he was the SEC player of the year. I tried to make it as tough as I can. He just made some plays."
That started a 19-5 spurt as Bledsoe followed with a layup. Senario Hillman drove the baseline to pull Alabama within 45-44 before Patterson hit a pair of free throws and Daniel Orton dunked for Kentucky's biggest lead of the game at 49-45.
The Wildcats pushed it to 55-45 when Wall followed up Bledsoe's miss with a dunk midway through the half.
Alabama, which rallied from 18 points down on Thursday to beat South Carolina, struggled with six of eight players in foul trouble. Torrance's two free throws pulled the Tide within 66-63 with 1:44 left.
Patterson answered with a dunk, and Wall hit four of six free throws to seal the victory. Two of those came after he bobbled the ball on his way to what appeared to be a celebratory dunk before he dribbled back out and was fouled.
Fans that rolled into town as early as Wednesday to start enjoying the Wildcats' pursuit of their first tournament title since 2004 warmed up with a pep rally Friday morning - nearly three hours before tipoff.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive started the party off inside the arena by presenting the Wildcats' their regular-season trophy about 10 minutes before tipoff. The players held it up for fans to enjoy and waved hands, encouraging them to yell, as if that was necessary.
The Tide came out and hit four of their first five 3s while the Wildcats missed their first eight attempts even with good looks and finished 1 of 13. Alabama took advantage of Cousins playing only 10 minutes with foul trouble to outrebound Kentucky 26-16 and led by as much as 11, the last at 26-15.
It wasn't until Darnell Dodson scored from the left side a couple seconds before the buzzer that Kentucky finally found the range, and that trimmed Alabama's lead to 35-30 at halftime.