Wildcats Fall To LSU, 67-58

March 13, 2009

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Marcus Thornton scored 21 points and No. 20 LSU beat Kentucky 67-58 Friday to advance to the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament and most likely end the Wildcats' streak of NCAA appearances at 17.

Thornton, the SEC player of the year, keyed a 10-2 spurt to enable the Tigers (26-6) to open a 14-point, second-half lead and nearly outscored Kentucky's high-scoring tandem of Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson by himself.

Kentucky (20-13) entered the tournament feeling it had to win it all to extend its string of consecutive NCAA appearances. The Wildcats last missed the NCAA tournament in 1991 and hasn't played in the NIT since 1979.

Patterson led Kentucky with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Meeks had a season-low eight points on 3-for-9 shooting.

LSU led 28-23 at the half despite shooting 30.6 percent from the field and getting little scoring from anyone other than Thornton, who had 13 at the break, including 10 over the stretch in which the Tigers spurted to an eight-point lead.

With LSU shooting poorly, Kentucky managed to stay close even without getting its usual production from Meeks and Patterson, two of the top five scorers in the SEC. The tandem combined for 11 first-half points on 4-for-10 shooting, with Meeks - the league's top scorer at 24.7 per game - not even attempting a shot in the first 13 minutes.

Garrett Temple spearheaded the LSU defense, drawing the difficult assignment of containing Meeks, who scored 24 in the Wildcats' 73-70 loss to LSU at home on Feb. 28. The 6-foot-6 guard made the Kentucky star work hard for everything he got.

Thornton, meanwhile, showed why he's the conference player of the year. The senior from Baton Rouge, La., made 8 of 17 shots, including a 3-pointer that finished the surge that carried the Tigers to 58-44 lead with 5:48 to go.

Temple and Bo Spencer also made 3-pointers in the 10-2 burst. LSU didn't score again until Spencer made two free throws with 1:37 left, but the closest Kentucky could get down the stretch was seven.

Spencer finished with 16 points and Tasmin Mitchell had 14. LSU shot 52 percent (13-of-25) in the second half and 39.3 percent for the game.

The loss was Kentucky's ninth in 12 games. The Wildcats entered the SEC tourney on a four-game losing streak.