Things in the Southeastern Conference, where national championships and NCAA probations seem the norm, are rarely boring.

Georgia chose not to show up at its basketball tournament here at the Louisiana Superdome. Alabama, once ranked first in the nation, made a first-round exit Thursday and all but ensured itself of a bid -- to the National Invitation Tournament.

And today LSU, among the hottest teams in the country, dispatched seventh-ranked Florida and might have knocked the Gators out of what was thought to be no worse than a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

The Tigers (21-9) built a first-half lead of 15 points and then held on, 65-61, for their seventh consecutive victory.

"In that first half, we played about as well as we can play," said LSU Coach John Brady, whose star player, senior Ronald Dupree, scored 19 of his game-high 24 points in the first half.

LSU, once one of the nation's worst-shooting teams, continued to sizzle. The Tigers shot 55 percent from the field, including 64 percent in the first half. LSU hit 24 of 36 shots inside the three-point arc and advanced to play Mississippi State in the semifinals.

Junior Jaime Lloreda, a native of Panama who was last season's national junior college player of the year, added 21 points and game highs of 15 rebounds and four blocks.

When LSU lost at home to Florida, 70-53, on Jan. 28, Lloreda scored three points.

"That was the worst game of my life and it was in front of my mom and dad," said Lloreda, who scored 16 points in the second half, including a free throw with 12 seconds left to account for the final score. "So I played this game with all my heart today."

What awaits Florida (24-7) in Sunday's bracket unveiling?

"I have no idea," offered Coach Billy Donovan, whose team made a first-round NCAA tournament exit last year, something not lost on his players.

"The next time we lose," senior Matt Bonner said, "the season's over."

* MISSISSIPPI STATE 73, MISSISSIPPI 64: The Bulldogs began their quest to repeat as tournament champion with a typically defensive performance.

Mississippi State (20-8) will play LSU in Saturday's semifinals.

Mario Austin, who announced earlier in the week he will return for his senior season, scored 19 points for the Bulldogs. Derrick Zimmerman and Timmy Bowers added 14 points apiece.

* KENTUCKY 81, VANDERBILT 63: Down by nine points, the second-ranked Wildcats put together one of their patented runs to cruise to a quarterfinal victory.

Keith Bogans (DeMatha High) scored 16 points as Kentucky (27-3) extended its winning streak to 21 games after becoming just the second SEC team in 47 years to go through the league schedule with a perfect record (16-0).

The Wildcats will play Auburn in Saturday's semifinals.

* AUBURN 66, TENNESSEE 53: Marco Killingsworth had 15 points and eight rebounds as the Tigers (20-10) won their quarterfinal game.