Kentucky needs OT to reach SEC title game
Atlanta, GA (Sports Network) – Chuck Hayes’ layup with 12 seconds remaining in
overtime lifted fourth-ranked Kentucky to a thrilling 79-78 victory over LSU
in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at the Georgia
Kelenna Azubuike scored 19 points for the Wildcats, who scored the game’s
final six points to advance to Sunday’s title game, where the SEC East
Division champions will take on rival Florida.
Patrick Sparks sank five three-pointers in a 17-point effort and Joe Crawford
recorded a season-best 14 points off the bench for Kentucky (25-4), which will
shoot for its 27th SEC Tournament championship and third in as many years.
Antonio Hudson finished with 21 points for the Tigers, who gave the Wildcats
all they could handle before seeing their seven-game win streak come to an
end. SEC Player of the Year Brandon Bass racked up 16 points and 13 rebounds
and sent the game into overtime by hitting an off-balance 18-foot jumper at
LSU (20-9), the West Division’s second seed, received 14 points from Darrel
Mitchell and 11 points and 10 boards from Glen Davis as well in the
“This Kentucky following is amazing and for our team to come in and play as
well as it did in this environment, it has to help your team even in losing,”
said Tigers head coach John Brady. “It will help us in the NCAA tournament.”
Sparks began Kentucky’s late comeback with a baseline three-pointer with 1:38
left in overtime which cut the Tigers’ lead to 78-76. LSU managed to run the
clock down to 39.1 seconds before Davis was fouled, but the SEC Freshman of
the Year failed to make either attempt from the stripe.
With 23 seconds on the clock, Azubuike made the first of two foul shots to
bring the Wildcats within 78-77. However, he missed the second and Hayes
pulled down the rebound, drove past Davis in the lane and converted a left-
handed shot for the go-ahead points.
“I had been struggling with shooting, and I was in foul trouble,” said Hayes,
who finished with just eight points. “After all that, the team was still
behind me and Coach (Smith) called my number. It’s my senior year, so this is
my last SEC tournament. You always hear ‘seize the moment’ and that’s what I
tried to do.”
LSU had one final chance for the win, but Tack Minor’s inside layup in the
final seconds fell off the mark and Hayes grabbed the carom.
The Tigers put together a great rally of their own in the final 1 1/2 minutes
of regulation to force the extra session.
Kentucky held a 69-62 lead before Mitchell buried two three-pointers to bring
the Tigers within one with 39 seconds to go. LSU turned the ball over with
seven seconds remaining, but UK’s Randolph Morris managed to make just 1-of-2
free throws to put the Wildcats in front 70-68.
Bass secured the rebound on the second miss, dribbled just inside the three-
point line, then threw up a shot right before the buzzer which bounced in to
bring on overtime.
The Wildcats were down 36-31 less than two minutes into the second half before
embarking on a 13-3 run. Crawford, who had nine of those points, put together
a rare four-point play to tie the game at 38-38 and gave Kentucky the lead
with a jumper with 16:09 to play.
I was so proud of our bench,” said Wildcats head coach Tubby Smith. They got
their chance to perform today. I thought we were flat at the beginning of the
second half, and I put in the bench to make a statement to the starters. Joe
had some clutch baskets.”
A Sparks three-pointer with 6:12 left extended the margin to 60-52 before the
Tigers answered with six straight points. Bass’ putback with 4:22 remaining
completed the run and cut LSU’s deficit to two.
LSU trailed 29-25 with three minutes to go in the first half before Ross
Neltner’s three-pointer started a 7-0 run. Two made free throws by Bass with
14 seconds left put the Tigers up 32-29, but Azubuike sank a baseline jumper
right before the buzzer to bring Kentucky within one at the break.
Hudson, who poured in 16 first-half points and drained 4-of-6 three-point
shots in the opening 20 minutes, keyed a 9-0 spurt with a triple midway
through the period as LSU turned a six-point deficit into a 23-20 edge. The
Wildcats responded with a 9-2 burst, capped by Azubuike’s three-pointer with
3:06 remaining before intermission, to move ahead by four.