Wildcats Clinch Berth….. In the NIT

TAMPA -- The Kentucky Wildcats came here to Tampa hoping to make a run in the SEC Tournament in an effort to return to the NCAA. Mission not accomplished. The Wildcats struggled offensively most of the afternoon and were beaten up on the boards in dropping a 67-58 decision to LSU.

All-SEC guard Marcus Thornton led the Tigers with 21 points while Bo Spencer added 16 and Tasmin Mitchell chipped in 14 more. Patrick Patterson had another double-double for Kentucky (15/10), but big blue got very little from the SEC's top scorer Jodie Meeks who scored just eight points.

As usual the Wildcats had a partisan crowd on hand as the best fans in college basketball helped fill up the lower two sections of the St. Pete Times Forum. Kentucky seemed to feed off that support and played energetic basketball especially on the defensive end. However that energy was wasted because they allowed LSU to grab 14 offensive rebounds in the first 20 minutes of action. LSU's great work on the glass helped the SEC Champs overcome some hideous (11-36) shooting.

The Tigers got off to a fast start, grabbing leads of 7-2 and 13-5 before Kentucky and the crowd got going. A 9-2 Wildcat run was capped by an offensive rebound basket b y Ramon Harris that made it 15-14. But LSU responded with a quick 6-0 run of its own to go up 21-14. The teams exchanged scores the rest of the way with Garret Temple of LSU scoring with nine seconds left in the half to go up 28-23 at intermission.

The second half started out with more of the back-and-forth scoring that typified the first 20 minutes. Every time LSU had a chance to push the lead beyond six points Kentucky would get a stop and a score. The key to the game may have some at the 13:18 mark when a Kentucky put back was waved off because of a foul on the original shot. Instead of Patterson's basket the Wildcats had to settle for 1-of-2 free throws from Perry Stevenson. LSU responded with baskets from Tasmin Mitchell, Marcus Thornton and Terry Martin to push the lead to ten at 46-36. Kentucky was able to close to six at 48-42 but then LSU knocked down three more long range shots in a 10-2 run that took the lead to 14. The last seven minutes were pretty much uneventful, but then again the last seven of all five games player thus far have been anything but exhilarating down the stretch.

LSU improves to 26-6 on the year and will face Mississippi State in the first of Saturday's semi-final games. Kentucky falls to 20-13 and will miss the big dance for the time since probation.

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