Late flurry buries Vols

Tennessee elected to clog the middle Saturday and dare Kentucky to score from 3-point range. Unfortunately for the Vols, the Big Blue took the dare.

Eric Bledsoe and Darnell Dodson hit a pair of 3s each to fuel a 29-6 finishing kick that turned a scant 45-39 lead into a 74-45 Wildcats romp in the SEC Tournament semifinals at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena.

"They just started knocking down 3s," Vol coach Bruce Pearl said. "They just really, really started to shoot the ball, and that was a big factor in their run."

Second-ranked Kentucky (31-2) now advances to Sunday's title game against Mississippi State, which beat Vanderbilt 62-52 in the other semifinal. No. 15 Tennessee (25-8) now waits to see if the lopsided loss affects its NCAA Tournament seeding.

"I'm disappointed about the margin," Pearl said. "We're better than that. We didn't represent ourselves like we have all season long. It took a lot of effort to execute the game plan, and I thought we did a lot of panicking."

Tennessee split two competitive games with Kentucky during the regular season - losing 73-62 in Lexington and winning 74-65 in Knoxville - by playing smart offensively and playing tough defensively. Playing their third game in 70 hours, however, the Vols managed to do neither in the rubber match.

"We just did not have the energy to compete against a team that's that talented, that big and that physical in a game where they're going to let you play," Pearl said.

Tennessee big men Wayne Chism and Brian Williams picked up two quick fouls each, playing just 10 and 8 first-half minutes, respectively. With Williams also hampered by back problems, Kentucky's 6-11, 270-pound DeMarcus Cousins scored 11 of his game-high 19 points by intermission as the Big Blue took a 32-19 lead to the locker room.

Down 44-30 six minutes into the second half, Tennessee used a 9-1 spurt to narrow the gap to 45-39 with 9:27 to play. That would prove to be the Vols' last hurrah, however, as they made just 1 of 12 shots the rest of the game.

Following a dunk by UK's Patrick Patterson, Bledsoe hit a 3. Dodson added two more treys and a fast-break dunk as the lead swelled to 58-41 with 6:02 left. After a dunk by Tennessee's Kenny Hall, Kentucky scored 14 consecutive points to widen the gap to 72-43 with 1:44 remaining.

"You can't go zone (down 20 points late)," Pearl said, "so we played the last three or so minutes man-to-man, and they just tore us up."

Bledsoe, who hit the last of his four second-half 3s during the game-clinching 14-0 explosion, finished 5 of 8 beyond the arc and scored 17 points. Star point guard John Wall added 14 points and 9 assists.

Kentucky native Scotty Hopson was Tennessee's only double-figure scorer, finishing with 11 points.

After shooting just 35.0 percent from the field and 9.1 percent (2 of 22) from 3 in the loss at Knoxville on Feb. 27, Kentucky hit 52.1 from the field and 36.4 (8 of 22) from 3 this time. The Cats also dominated the backboards 44-29, with Cousins grabbing 15 rebounds.

Tennessee's offense never found anything approaching a rhythm. The Vols sank just 30.9 percent from the field and 13.3 percent (2 of 15) from beyond the arc against a pesky Kentucky defense.

"They made it tough on us," said Vol senior J.P. Prince who was guilty of 5 turnovers. "They obviously had us frustrated. We didn't make shots, we got in a hurry and kind of lost our composure at the end."

Pearl thought so, too, noting: "We just got stagnant offensively. We just would not make them guard."

Ultimately, Tennessee's best chance to win was to play a superior game and hope that Kentucky played poorly. Neither happened.

"We just didn't have it," Pearl said. "We battled back on a couple of occasions and I felt like we had a chance. But, like a great team, they put us away and made shots."

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