Monday , Mar , 01 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Kentucky clinches SEC East title

Baton Rouge, LA (Sports Network) – Gerald Fitch hit 5-of-8 three-pointers and
finished with 23 points, leading No. 9 Kentucky to a 70-64 win over LSU at
Maravich Assembly Center.

Erik Daniels contributed 14 points and Cliff Hawkins scored 13 for the
Wildcats, who won their fourth straight game to clinch the outright SEC East
title. Kentucky has now won 11 of the 14 SEC East titles since the league
expanded in 1991-92.

“We’re trying to get a No. 1 seed in the East in the SEC Tournament and a good
seed in the NCAA Tournament,” Daniels said.

The Wildcats (21-4, 11-3 SEC) also continued their recent domination of LSU,
winning their third straight over the Tigers and seventh in eight attempts.

The Tigers (17-8, 7-7), who lost their fourth straight game, were forced to
again play without star forward Jaime Lloreda, who sat out with an assortment
of injuries accrued over the past few weeks. Darrel Mitchell led the way in
the losing effort for LSU with 15 points, while freshman Brandon Bass added 13
points and six rebounds.

“I knew it would be a real battle even without Jaime,” said Kentucky head
coach Tubby Smith. “I was real impressed, losing their best player and being
able to play like that tells you a little about the character and toughness of
their team.”

The Wildcats were ahead only by one after Bass’ three-point play to start the
second half. Kentucky, however, increased its cushion with a 10-2 burst,
ignited by a Fitch three-pointer. Fitch then hit another three-pointer later
in the run before Chuck Hayes capped the spurt with a fastbreak dunk, making
it 43-34 with 15:16 remaining.

The Kentucky lead stood at 52-41 at the midway point of the second half. But
LSU battled back and chipped away at the deficit, closing within three at
59-56 with 3:16 to play.

Fitch then answered with a clutch three-pointer on the other end of the court,
and Kelenna Azubuike followed with two free throws to push the margin to
eight.

The resilient Tigers, however, had one more run left in them. After two free
throws by Xavier Whipple cut the deficit to six, Mitchell converted an
improbable four-point play, making it 64-62 with 37 seconds remaining.

Kentucky, though, closed out the contest by hitting all six of its free throws
down the stretch.

“We now have a two-game season with an extra game in the SEC Tournament,” said
LSU head coach John Brady. “We have Ole Miss at home and Auburn on the road,
and if we win both of those we will be in the NCAA Tournament at 9-7. If we
win one, we still may get in. That is what we are playing for and for us to
have gone through what we have gone through recently to still have an
opportunity to do that just has to make you proud of our players and how they
responded (today).”

The game remained fairly close in the first half, despite Kentucky leading
most of the way. The Wildcats came out of the gates strong when they scored
the first six points of the game, but that was the biggest lead of the first
20 minutes for either team.

Twice the Tigers were able to jump ahead in the first half, the final time at
29-28 after a Mitchell three-pointer with 3:16 remaining.

But Kentucky scored the final five points of the period to take the lead into
halftime. After Fitch’s free throw with one second remaining, the Wildcats
held a 33-29 edge.

KENTUCKY LSU