Knight leads youthful Wildcats past Alabama and into SEC title game
Saturday, March 12, 2011; 3:30 PM
ATLANTA -- Brandon Knight finally got rolling at the Southeastern Conference tournament and No. 15 Kentucky looked like a young team peaking at just the right time with a 72-58 semifinal victory over Alabama on Saturday.
Knight scored 10 straight points to blow it open for the Wildcats (24-8), who have won seven out of eight with their three freshmen starters. They will play in the SEC title game Sunday against either regular-season champion Florida or Vanderbilt.
Kentucky raced to a 37-21 halftime lead, even with Knight missing all four of his shots. Alabama (21-11) scored two quick baskets to start the second half before the freshman guard put an end to any thought of another big comeback by the Crimson Tide.
He knocked down his first two 3-pointers of the tournament, bolted into the lane for a layin and came off a screen to swish another jumper with a hand in his face, stretching Kentucky's lead to 51-30.
But a potential drawback for Kentucky - no depth - became apparent in the closing minutes. Even with a big lead, coach John Calipari still had four starters and his only real backup, DeAndre Liggins, on the court.
The coach probably wishes he had put in some scrubs. First, Liggins tumbled to the court hard and limped to the locker room. Then, Doron Lamb went down hard going for a rebound, appearing to sprain his left ankle. He rolled around in obvious pain and couldn't put any pressure on it as he was helped to the bench by teammate Josh Harrellson and a member of the basketball staff.
It wasn't immediately known how badly they were hurt or whether their condition would affect their playing time Sunday or in the tournament that really matters.
Lamb led the Wildcats with 15 points, while Harrellson and Liggins had 14 apiece, Knight 12 and Darius Miller 10.
Knight, the freshman who makes Kentucky go, got off to a slow start in Atlanta. He was only 5 of 15 - including 0 of 6 from 3-point range - in a quarterfinal victory over Mississippi. He missed three more 3s in the opening half against Alabama, leaving him scoreless beyond the arc.
He soon took care of that, and the Wildcats were off and running.
Alabama was coming off an improbable victory over Georgia in the quarterfinals, rallying from a 14-point deficit in the final 7 minutes and winning in overtime.
The Crimson Tide will have to hope that's enough to claim an NCAA bid. The team came to Atlanta squarely on the bubble despite winning the SEC West with a gaudy 12-4 record, saddled with three ugly losses early in the season and a low RPI rating.
A win over Kentucky almost certainly would've locked up a berth for the Tide. Now, it will be a nervous Sunday as the team waits to see if it's among the 68-school field.
Alabama was hampered by an injury to Tony Mitchell, who was on the bench for a long stretch in the first half after getting his left leg tangled with a teammate. He was able to return after the break and led the Tide with 16 points.
JaMychal Green added 12 and Chris Hines 10.
Kentucky was technically the road team, but that was only in name only.
As usual, the Wildcats felt right at home in the SEC tournament, with virtually the entire crowd at the Georgia Dome dressed in blue. That's especially the case in Atlanta, which the Kentucky faithful have renamed "Catlanta."
Alabama won the regular-season meeting, edging the Wildcats 68-66 in Tuscaloosa. But Kentucky is streaking now, its only loss since mid-February an overtime setback at Arkansas.