Vols win, seeded 2nd with help from ’Cats
Posted: Monday, March 5, 2012 7:00 pm
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Cuonzo Martin’s endorsement of his team’s NCAA tournament resume was anything but subtle.
Tennessee clinched a bye in the first round of the SEC tournament with a 68-61 win against Vanderbilt on Saturday, ending a regular season that included early losses to Oakland and Austin Peay and finished with the Vols winning eight of their final nine.
The turnaround ended up with Tennessee (18-13, 10-6 SEC) as the No. 2 seed in the SEC tournament following No. 1 Kentucky’s win over Florida on Sunday.
“Are we an NCAA tournament team? Yes,” said Martin, the Vols’ first-year coach. “Is there work to be done? I don’t know. I’m not on the committee. We’ve got to continue to win ballgames.”
Vanderbilt (21-10, 10-6) had locked up a bye in the SEC tournament before Saturday’s game.
The Vols, whose RPI is 81st according to RealTimeRPI.com, should get a boost from beating the Commodores, who are 19th in the latest RPI.
“Once I took over the program, until I’m in the casket, I don’t know, whatever the case may be … I said one day we’d be the last team standing,” Martin said. “I meant that when I said it.”
Tennessee overcame its 18.8 percent shooting (3-of-16) from 3-point range by making 12-of-15 free throws down the stretch. Senior Cameron Tatum led the Vols with 18 points and hit five of those free throws in front of an announced crowd of 22,172.
“This is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life, my last game in Thompson-Boling Arena,” Tatum said. “The crowd was rocking. We’ve got to give a shout-out to them.”
Freshman Jarnell Stokes overcame flu-like symptoms to finish with a double-double of 11 points and 14 rebounds. Tennessee outrebounded Vanderbilt 40-30.
John Jenkins, the SEC’s leading scorer, did his best to keep Vanderbilt in the game, scoring eight of his team-high 18 points in the final 11 minutes.
The Vols threatened to put the game out of reach on several occasions — three times pushing their lead to nine — but Jenkins consistently scrapped out an answer.
Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor, who each shoot better than 45 percent from 3-point range, combined to shoot 4-of-16 from that distance on the night.
“I had to work for looks, and the ones I did have were tough,” Jenkins said. “They did a good job.”
The duo scored consecutive baskets to pull the Commodores within 56-53, but Tatum made four straight free throws to give Tennessee a late cushion.
Trae Golden added 15 and Jeronne Maymon 12 for Tennessee.
The Vols cut down significantly on the season-high 25 turnovers that contributed to the Commodores’ 65-47 win on Jan. 24. Tennessee finished with just 10 on Saturday.
Tennessee made only eight field goals in the second half but made 79.3 percent of its free throws (23 of 29), compared to its season average of 69.8 percent.
The Vols led early, but Jenkins hit three 3-pointers and Brad Tinsley added another in a 12-1 run that put Vanderbilt on top 21-15. Tennessee countered with a 13-2 run of its own and led 30-29 at halftime.
Kentucky 74, Florida 59
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari never mentioned perfection to his team before Sunday’s game at Florida.
He talked about pride.
The Wildcats ended up with both.
Freshman Anthony Davis had 22 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks, Terrence Jones added 19 points and the top-ranked Wildcats capped a perfect season in Southeastern Conference play with a 74-59 victory over No. 16 Florida.
Kentucky (30-1, 16-0) set a school record for regular-season wins, extended its winning streak to 22 games and secured its hold on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats are the No. 1 seed in next week’s SEC tournament.
“I told them prior to the game, ‘Look, bottom line is if we lose we’re still a 1 seed. It doesn’t change our seeding. It doesn’t do anything. But it’s about pride,’” Calipari said. “… That was the message prior to the game: just go have pride and play.”
The Wildcats became just the third team since Alabama in 1956 to go unbeaten in SEC play.
The other two? Kentucky. The powerhouse program accomplished the feat in 1996 and 2003.
Big Blue faced little resistance in the regular-season finale.
The Wildcats used an 8-0 run in the second half to make it a double-digit lead, and then added a 9-0 run later to put the game out of reach.
“The one thing I would say about them is that if you do break down defensively against them, you’re going to pay,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
“But they also have the ability, when you guard them the way you want to guard them, they can still make a shot. … I think that’s what makes really, really good teams.”
Patric Young led Florida (22-9, 10-6) with 21 points while Erik Murphy added 14 points and eight rebounds.
Young and Murphy had few answers for Davis and Jones, who both were 9 of 13 from the field, including a 3-pointer each.
Kentucky shot 53 percent from the field and seemingly scored at will in the paint, finishing with 40 points in the key. And when the Wildcats aren’t missing many shots and aren’t turning the ball over, they are tough to beat — maybe even impossible.
“This line of guys they have really good chemistry, they’re really together,” Young said. “No one’s out there trying to score from himself. … They have a really complete team. It will be really tough to beat them.”
The Wildcats took a 28-16 lead in the first half, often abusing the Gators in one-on-one situations. And even when Kentucky did miss, Davis and Jones were there for rebounds and putbacks.
“It was one of those nights that Kentucky’s length really caused us some problems,” Donovan said.
Florida crawled back in the second half. The Gators cut the lead to 46-44 with about 16 minutes remaining, but couldn’t get any closer as Kentucky responded with clutch shots every time the score got close.
Kentucky started pulling away from there.
Florida responded thanks to some inspired play by Young and made it 59-55. But the Cats just dialed it up on both ends of the court.
The Gators made just one basket over the final 9:02, a meaningless shot in the closing minute. Davis, meanwhile, took over. He had a putback, a layup, a dunk and a free throw down the stretch.
“John is now putting him in situations that he did not do a lot of,” Donovan said. “When you go through a season, teams start to guard you differently, throw different things at you and it’s enabled him to grow as Kentucky’s team’s grown because he adds a different dimension for them on the perimeter.”
Calipari was equally impressed with Jones.
“If Terrence Jones plays that way for us, we’re not just good, we’re real good,” Calipari said. “And that’s what he was today. He was phenomenal.”
Young was the lone bright spot for the Gators. He made 10 of 15 shots and finished with nine rebounds.
Guards Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker and Bradley Beal had forgettable performances for Florida. Going against bigger defenders, the trio combined for 6-of-29 shooting.
Boynton, benched to start the game because he was late to a team meeting, finished with seven points on 2-of-8 shooting. Walker, recognized before his final home game as the team’s lone senior, had eight points on 3-of-11 shooting. Beal had five points to go along with seven rebounds and four assists. He left the game with a sprained ankle, but returned late.
Together, they did little to keep Kentucky from perfection.
“Their talent and ability to make a shot or make a difficult shot was much, much better than our ability to do that,” Donovan said.
Published in The Messenger 3.5.12