Cats lose to Florida, await NCAA seeding

The Kentucky Wildcats failed in their bid to capture their 26th Sec Tournament Championship. The Cats fell to Billy Donovan and his Florida Gators by the final 70-53. 

The Kentucky Wildcats failed in their bid to capture their 26th Sec Tournament Championship. The Cats fell to Billy Donovan and his Florida Gators by the final 70-53. 

Matt Walsh carved the Cats up from the outside, connecting on five three pointers and hitting foul shots down the stretch to keep Kentucky out of reach. Walsh finished with 26 points. 

"We did not show up with much energy today," coach Tubby Smith said, "we showed a lot of heart to get back into the game. The overtime yesterday probably played a role."

It was all Florida early, as the Gators used its speed and defense to break out to a 15-4 lead. It was once again Kentucky’s bench which finally brought the Wildcats to life. Bobby Perry connected at the 13:02 mark, then hit a three-pointer. Sheray Thomas added two buckets and the Cats were within six, at 22-16. The teams would play pretty evenly the rest of the half and the Cats went into the locker down by seven, 34-27. 

In the second half, it would be the starters that would show life and for a while it appeared that Kentucky would play well enough to earn its third straight Tournament Championship. Down 39-29, the Wildcats went on a 15-1 run to claim a 44-40 lead at the 11:45 mark. During that period, Atlanta freshman Randolph Morris and senior Chuck Hayes played key roles with aggressive board work on both end of the floor. 

The Cats would seem to run out of gas after that and Florida dominated play the rest of the game behind the deadly shooting of Matt Walsh. Walsh hit three critical three point shots and Roberson added two buckets of his own as the Gators went on a 21-2 run to take a 61-46 lead and close the door on Kentucky. 

"They were just a better team today," Smith said,  "Quicker. Hungrier. We have been concerned about rebounding all year long. Today was a huge example of what can happen when you give up the boards."

Florida dominated the Cats on the glass by a margin of 45-31. 

The Wildcats would shoot just 35% from the field and an abysmal 2-19 from three point range. Only junior Kelenna Azubuike would score in double digits, finishing with 17 points for the Wildcats, now 25-5 and wondering whether their dream of a number one NCAA Tournament seeding will be realized. 

"We made some mistakes," Smith said, "but we got a great game from Morris and Perry and Joe Crawford played well. There are some things that were encouraging."

Florida claimed their first-ever SEC Tournament Championship. They finished the season 23-7 riding a 7-game winning streak into the NCAA Tournament.

"We'll bounce back," Smith said, "I think we are doing some things right. They were hungrier than we were. The spirit was there. The body wasn't today.  We will take a day off, look at some film and decide what to do. I think we will be fine."


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