UK Claims SEC Championship
March 13, 2011
ATLANTA (AP)--Brandon Knight scored 17 points, Darius Miller hit two crucial 3-pointers and No. 15 Kentucky cruised to another Southeastern Conference tournament title, routing regular-season champion Florida 70-54 on Sunday.
The 12th-ranked Gators (26-7) had a miserable day shooting, especially guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker. They combined to go 7 of 26 from the field, their woes epitomized in the closing minutes when they put up back-to-back airballs trying desperately to bring Florida back.
Kentucky (25-8) streaked into the NCAAs with its sixth straight win, second straight SEC tournament crown and 27th title overall--more than every other school combined.
Florida trailed at halftime for the third straight game. The Gators came back against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, but they were doomed when Kentucky pushed it out to a 14-point lead with just over 9 minutes remaining on consecutive 3s by Miller, who was named tournament MVP.
Boynton scored 10 points, the only Florida player in double figures. But he was just 4 of 16 from the field, which pretty much summed up what kind of day it was for the Gators.
They shot just 39 percent (22 of 57), matched their second-lowest scoring game of the season and almost took their worst loss, just getting in under a 93-75 defeat to Ohio State back in November. This is a team that lives by the jump shot. When those shots didn't fall, they were dead.
But hand it to Kentucky, a team that totally rebuilt around three freshmen and a very thin roster after most of the big names bolted to the NBA a year ago.
Even with one of those newcomers, Doron Lamb, plagued by a sprained ankle, the Wildcats appear to be a team that is all grown up at the most important time of year. They have won eight of nine--the only loss in that stretch an overtime setback at Arkansas--and surely improved their seeding for the tournament that really matters.
Miller hit 6 of 8 shots, grabbed six rebounds and finished with 15 points. Freshman Terrence Jones chipped in with 16 points. And Knight, the third youngster, ran the show with four assists and capped the big win with a thunderous dunk in the final minute.
Hardly looking like a team with so much youth, Kentucky turned it over just six times. Florida had 14 turnovers, and no one stepped up as the game got away. The ultra-quick Walker tried putting up jumpers and penetrating the lane, not having much success at either. He shot just 3 of 10 and had eight points.
Chandler Parsons added to the woes with a 4-of-12 performance to finish with nine points.
The shooting problems carried over the foul line, where the Gators made just 3 of 8.
Lamb sprained his left ankle in the closing minutes of a semifinal victory over Alabama. He went through pregame warmups, then started out on the bench, with DeAndre Liggins taking his place in the lineup.
The freshman checked in just ahead of the second TV timeout and seemed to move around without much problem, though he wasn't a major factor in the game. He played 23 minutes and scored six points.
Still, Lamb just playing was a big relief to Kentucky fans who made up the bulk of the crowd in "Catlanta," giving the Wildcats a home-court advantage a long way from Lexington. A loud cheer went up when Lamb checked into the game, meaning he should at least be in decent shape for the NCAAs.
That's important for Kentucky, which basically uses a six-man rotation. Perhaps looking to stretch his bench, coach John Calipari gave early playing time to little-used junior Eloy Vargas, who had four rebounds, two points and a steal in 10 solid minutes.
When it was done, Lamb was the first one up the ladder to cut down the nets. During a raucous celebration in front of press row, he and the other freshmen hopped around like this was something new to them--which, of course, it was.
For Kentucky, though, this was just business as usual at the SEC tournament.