UK moves to SEC final with 74-71 win over Fla.
By BRETT MARTEL
NEW ORLEANS (AP) If John Calipari's top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats encounter late-game adversity in the NCAA tournament, they'll know how to handle it.
Anthony Davis had 15 points and 12 rebounds, and Kentucky held off Florida 74-71 on Saturday in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
"I've got this team that has that will to win. They want to win. They have great pride," said Calipari, whose team has trailed in the second half of each of its first two SEC tournament games and never led either by more than single digits.
"We're just really a young team that - every one of these experiences is good for my team."
Terrence Jones added 15 points and nine rebounds for the Wildcats (32-1), who've won 24 straight and play next in Sunday's tournament final against Vanderbilt, a 65-53 winner over Mississippi in the other semifinal.
Doron Lamb scored 16 points and Marquis Teague added 15, with each hitting a pair of key free throws in the last 15 seconds to secure the win against a Florida team which shot 48 percent, including 11 of 22 from 3-point range.
"We know people are going to give us their best shot every game, especially coming down to tournament time," Teague said. "It really doesn't matter how much you win by. We just want to make sure we get a win."
Calipari was particularly pleased by the way Teague, who also had five assists, responded to a chat in the coach's hotel room Friday night, hours after the freshman point guard had managed only two points in a close victory over LSU.
"I just told him again, `You can't play to score because that hurts our team, but you have to pick your spots and score in transition layups to keep them honest if they don't play you (to shoot),'" Calipari said. "It's hard playing point guard for us. ... He was outstanding."
Erik Murphy had a career-high 24 points, on 9 of 12 shooting, and nearly lifted Florida (23-10) to the upset with nine points in the final minutes. Bradley Beal added 20 points, but it was not enough to prevent the Gators from falling to 0-3 against the Wildcats this season.
"We made some shots, we played pretty good defense for the most part," Murphy said. "With these two teams, at this stage of the season, meeting for the third time, we pretty much know each other, so I think that's what kept it real close."
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 10 points for Kentucky, which shot 45 percent (27 of 60) and outrebounded Florida 39-25. The Wildcats grabbed 16 offensive rebounds.
There was a significant disparity in free throws, with Kentucky hitting 15 of 20 and Florida going 2 for 2.
"I don't understand how, in a game like that, we get to the free throw line two times ... when you see from our bench in the second half, (Florida forward) Patric Young getting pushed in the back constantly, constantly, constantly, and there's just no whistle," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "To me, it's really hard to overcome 20 free throws to two. ... I'm not saying we didn't foul them. ... But, I mean, we got to the free throw line two times?"
Florida led 56-51 on Young's jump hook with 10:43 to go, but the Gators' offense suddenly lost its rhythm.
Florida went more than six minutes without scoring while the Wildcats used a 14-0 run to surge in front 65-56.
Jones hit a 3 and added a follow-up one-handed jam of Davis' missed jumper during the spurt. As his 3 swirled through the hoop, Jones turned to the boisterous and heavily pro-Kentucky crowd, made the hand signal for a 3 and held it to his face, looking through the circle formed by his thumb and index finger.
"I'm just trying to win and if we look like we're a little out of place, I just try to get everybody together and calm everybody down," Jones said. "There's a lot of guys that it's their first time being here and I was here last year, so I just try to show that leadership and just show everybody that we still got the control if we play our game."
Just when it appeared the Gators were teetering on collapse, Murphy scored seven straight points to pull Florida to 65-63.
Davis' putback after Teague's missed free throw gave Kentucky a 68-63 lead, but Beal responded with a quick 3 from several feet behind the arc to make it 68-66 in a back-and-forth finish.
Florida shot close to 60 percent through the first 15 minutes and did not trail once until the final seconds of the first half.
Beal hit a 3 to open the game and Murphy made two more soon after, and the Gators hit five of their first eight attempts from deep, with Beal's second putting Florida ahead 31-21.
Florida led 39-32 on Erving Walker's layup with 4:25 left in the half, but Kentucky's defense tightened up after that, not allowing the Gators another point before halftime.
Lamb's 3 ignited an 8-0 run to close the period.
Davis, who had only one point in the first half of Friday's victory over LSU, had a much better start against Florida, and Kentucky needed it. He made four of his first six shots for 10 points, including a 3 that gave Kentucky its first lead of the game at 40-39 15 seconds before halftime.
Updated March 10, 2012