In a tale of two halves, the 7th ranked Kentucky Wildcats defeated the 12th ranked Georgia Bulldogs 60-38 in the semi-finals of the SEC Tournament. After a dismal opening 20 minutes in which UK only scored 19 points, the Cats cranked up the energy to end the game, and used multiple stifling runs to beat a tough Bulldog team. The name of the game was revenge, as Georgia defeated Kentucky earlier this season in Lexington by four, but the Cats found a way to stop Hassell inside and connect in the paint. Stallworth led the way with 18 points and five rebounds. The Cats are headed to the championship for the third time in the past four years.
The Cats pulled a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tonight. First half: Cats shoot 26%, have the same amount of turnovers as Georgia, and are losing by five. Second half: Kentucky shoots 55%, wins the turnover battle, and outscores Georgia by 27. Both Mitchell and Stallworth credited the big turnaround as a team “change of attitude” and Mitchell was full of praise for point guard Jennifer O’Neill saying “second half Jennifer is the one I think is the best point guard in this league”. She pushed the ball, hit some 3’s and finished with nine points.
Why did the game start so bad? Effort, energy, and offensive rebounds. Everyone on UK agreed that Georgia “wanted it more” from the tip-off, and Coach Mitchell knew that was simply unacceptable, especially when his team is vying for their first SEC Tournament Championship since 1982. He said that his coaching staff did a “roll call” during halftime, and met with a few players individually to make sure their heads and their hearts were ready for the next 20 minutes. Apparently, they were.
To start the second half, Kentucky went on a 22-3 run, and dug Georgia into the ground. The Dogs couldn’t do anything offensively once Jasmine Hassell was shut down, and the Cats were able to connect on easy layups they spent all of the first half missing. Mitchell said the halftime locker room was “intense” and that he was “livid” but promises he did not curse. All he did was write the number 12 on the board, and the number three on the board, signifying the offensive rebound discrepancy. The “O-Boards” where were Georgia did their damage, but Kentucky was able to box out, and that was that.
Ever steady Mathies was as focused as ever in the post-game press conference simply stating: “we didn’t come here to lose in the second round, we came here to cut down a net”. The senior star finished with 11 points on an average shooting night, but why score when your team wins by 22?
True to his word, Mitchell continued his “five in five out” mass substitutions tonight, and the bench did their part to step up. Post player Azia Bishop played a large role off the bench, matching up with the big bodies in the paint. She said bench play is important because it “helps the starters, but it’s not a lot of pressure on me”. Once again every single Wildcat player got some PT tonight, and Kentucky proved how it’s bench will do wonders in tournament play.
Georgia’s Coach Andy Landers once again won the award for “most greased hair” and was being heckled on the live blog for his poor choice in jacket. Wasn’t a good night for him.
In the semi-final before Kentucky’s game, the Texas A&M shocked Duluth by upsetting the top seeded Lady Vols of Tennessee -. The 4th seeded Aggies fought through adversity and pro-orange crowd to fight back in the second half and set themselves up for another match up with the Kentucky Wildcats. The Cats and A&M have already played twice this season, with Kentucky getting a win in each game. Beating a team three times in one season is never easy, but Kentucky is confident they have the tools to do it one more time.
On a separate note, after being in Duluth, Georgia for over a day…it’s a confusing place. Hayley and I have discovered a large part of town dedicated to Asian cuisine and lemme tell ya, this place loves their pho. There is a restaurant named “What the Pho?”, and several others that only have Asian characters with no English translations on the building…so naturally we’re having a great time. Going to see Oz tonight….yay or nay?
Tomorrow’s SEC Championship game will be at 6 p.m. on ESPN2. If you don’t watch it, you suck. If you don’t join us on the live blog, you suck. That is all. #40MINS