Saturday , Mar , 13 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Fitch leads Kentucky into SEC title game

Atlanta, GA (Sports Network) – Gerald Fitch scored 19 of his game-high 24
points in the second half, leading eighth-ranked Kentucky to a 78-63 victory
over South Carolina in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference
Tournament at the Georgia Dome.

Erik Daniels added 21 points and nine rebounds for the Wildcats (25-4), who
have won eight straight games and will play Florida in Sunday’s championship
game. Kelenna Azubuike chipped in 14 points for Kentucky, which is still in
contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky is the defending SEC Tournament champion and will try for its 25th
league crown on Sunday. Alabama has the second-most titles with six.

South Carolina (23-10), which beat Arkansas and LSU to reach the semifinal
round, will still likely receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“We ran out of bodies, ran out of energy and ran out of time,” said South
Carolina head coach Dave Odom. “Playing in this tournament has made us a
better team.”

Josh Gonner scored 17 points to lead the Gamecocks, while Carlos Powell added

South Carolina trailed 40-34 at the break and got as close as five early in
the second half when a Powell free throw made it 44-39.

Fitch answered with a three-pointer and converted a three-point play a few
moments later to give Kentucky an 11-point lead. Fitch added three free throws
and a Daniels jumper then capped an 11-2 burst that pushed the Wildcat cushion
to 14 at 55-41 with just under 12 minutes to play.

The lead reached 15 a few moments later and South Carolina was able to get
only as close as seven, as a Mike Boynton three-pointer pulled the Gamecocks
within 61-54 with 6:49 remaining.

South Carolina still trailed by only eight, 66-58, after a pair of Gonner free
throws with just over four minutes left, but Fitch drained a three-pointer to
ignite a string of seven straight Kentucky points that sealed the contest.

Fitch finished 8-of-12 from the field and hit half of his eight three-point
tries. Daniels was 9-of-14 from the field for the Wildcats, who shot 51.7
percent overall.

“We did pass and move the ball well,” said Kentucky head coach Tubby Smith.
“We had balance on both sides, offense and defense, and we took care of the

Kentucky led 8-3 early after a three-pointer by Cliff Hawkins, but South
Carolina was able to keep it close and took a 17-16 lead on a three-pointer by
Boynton with just over 12 minutes left in the half.

Daniels then scored four points during a 6-0 burst that gave the Wildcats the
lead for good.

The Gamecocks were within 27-24 moments later, but Daniels capped another 6-0
spurt with a bucket to give Kentucky a 33-24 advantage with 3 1/2 minutes to
play before the break.

The Wildcats went into the locker room with a 40-34 lead.

“I am proud of the way that our team played against Kentucky,” Odom added.
“They are one of the best teams in the nation and when they are playing at
their best they are, in my mind, the best team I have seen.”