For the second straight time this season, the Kentucky Wildcats gnawed the Florida Gators. For the second straight year, Kentucky wins the SEC Tournament and the automatic bid to the NCAA. It is wonderful for Wildcat fans to see after a challenging season which saw so many close losses on the road.
Florida gave an excellent effort, but they were simply unable to put up points in the second half. A lot of that was due to some easy shots that got missed, but more of it was due to outstanding defense by the Wildcats. Florida did a number on UK in the first half on the offensive glass, but Kentucky simply out-shot the Gators from every available scoring position. In the end, the game is about scoring more points than the opponent, and Kentucky shot the ball much better than the Florida.
Congrats to the Gators on their regular-season championship and getting all the way to the tournament final through the toughest road any top seed had. Florida did not have their best game today, but they are certainly ready to do some damage in the NCAA Tournament.
Nobody who watched this game could have been happy with the long stretch in the second half where Kentucky could not score. It must have been seven or eight highly unproductive minutes by the 'Cats on offense, but the Gators were simply unable to penetrate the Kentucky defense with anything like consistency. The end result was a 9-12 point lead for UK during that stretch that Florida was simply unable to assail.
- Darius Miller. 6-8 shooting, 15 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks. Game ball. More importantly, SEC Tournament MOP. Well earned. Dissapearius is dead, long live Darius I, new king of the court.
- Terrence Jones did not play well offensively, but he did all kinds of things to help the team win other than score. Namely, he made big free throws and a dagger three that really came at a good time. Not only that, he was a rock on defense with 3 big blocks, and he and Josh Harrellson held the interior guys of Florida to a whopping 16 points.
- Josh Harrellson did what he always does -- rebound and make unexpected easy baskets. Josh had a good game, particularly defensively.
- Brandon Knight started out hot, but then went as cold as the intergalactic void in the second half. But he defended well, made free throws, and took good care of the ball.
- Doron Lamb was pretty quiet, and I'm sure his injury had a lot to do with that. Still, Lamb contributed 23 minutes and wound up with 6 points.
- Eloy Vargas played by far his best game of the season. He had four total rebounds in only 10 minutes, 3 of them offensive. He also chipped in 2 free throws.
- DeAndre Liggins did not shoot the ball well, but he did make free throws and was, as usual, a defensive nightmare for the other team.
- Lest I forget, kudos to Coach Cal for the clever application of the zone. It obviously unsettled Florida, and they never really recovered from that discomfort.
Ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, this win was just extraordinary. Kentucky played about as good defensively as they have played anytime this season against the best offensive team in the SEC and the 12th best offensive team in the country. That is nothing if not impressive, and given how banged up the 'Cats were in this tournament, this win leaves me doubly amazed.
I know that many of us including yours truly had, to a greater or lesser extent, written off this Kentucky team as a threat to go deep in the NCAA tournament. I am not so sanguine that assessment was correct. This team showed real development in this tournament, and made the kind of plays that win games both close and not so close. Gone is the tentative Wildcat team that would blow significant leads. Gone are the really bad fouls that left them in trouble. Gone is the unfocused and sometimes soft guard play.
The team is a reflection of the coach, and I must say that this Wildcat team is starting to mirror the tough, take-no-prisoners attitude of coach Calipari, and that is a very good thing. I can't say enough about how this team has developed over the last month, and I think we now have as good a chance to go deep in the next three weeks as anyone.