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March 9, 2012

Cats struggle but advance to SEC Tournament semis

NEW ORLEANS - If John Calipari had his way, there wouldn't be a Southeastern Conference Tournament. He'd just as soon have his top-ranked Wildcats resting in preparation for the NCAA Tournament.

For a while on Friday, it looked like he might get his wish.

But on the long list of reasons for Kentucky's struggles to put away LSU in a 60-51 quarterfinal win at New Orleans Arena, Calipari's disdain for the event didn't even register, UK forward Anthony Davis said.

"Not at all," Davis said. "We always want to win. Especially me. I like to win. If he said to go out here and lose, I don't think I'd be able to do it. All of us, we like to win. I don't think that rubbed off on us."

So look elsewhere in your search for reasons why the Wildcats (31-1) sputtered for much of Friday's game. There's no shortage of culprits.

Start with Kentucky's 18 turnovers, which LSU (18-14) turned into 16 points.

"I think it was that press, that relentless press - oh, they didn't press, I'm sorry," Calipari said. "They were physical and we were getting bumped and we couldn't hold on to balls. It just got too physical for guys."

Davis, Terrence Jones and point guard Marquis Teague each had four turnovers for Kentucky. That helped the Tigers outscore the Cats 14-2 in fast break points.

LSU also had 14 offensive rebounds, which combined with UK's turnovers gave the Tigers a 68-42 advantage in field-goal attempts.

It wasn't just the turnovers, though, that caused problems for the Wildcats.

UK looked uninspired in the early going and struggled to find any offensive rhythm. Though the Cats held a 25-24 halftime lead, LSU controlled most of the first half, leading by as many as five points. The Tigers held UK to 31.8 percent shooting in the first half.

"We came out lackadaisical like this team (was) not going to play like their life was on the line," said Davis, who had 12 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots. "We thought we were going to come out like, 'OK, we know we're going to win, so let's just go out here.' We didn't have the right mindset going in."

That didn't change at halftime. After a three-point play by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - who led all scorers with 19 points - opened the second-half scoring, UK watched as LSU stormed back into the lead.

The Tigers again stretched the margin to five points before Jones took over, scoring nine straight points, part of a 15-point, 11-rebound game. UK stretched its second-half lead to as many as nine points, but it never led by double digits.

"I didn't want to lose," Jones said. "It was real close. LSU came out playing real aggressive and just attacking us on defense by going after steals and just being all on us. I think in the second half, we just needed to run our plays and execute and just play aggressive like we've been doing."

With the win, the Wildcats advance to play Florida in Saturday's first semifinal. Game time is 1 p.m. EST. Kentucky beat the Gators twice in the regular season, winning 78-58 on Feb. 7 in Lexington and 74-59 last Sunday in Gainesville, Fla.

"We know they're a great team," UK guard Doron Lamb said. "They've got great perimeter guys, they've got great post guys, and it's hard to be a team three times. We've just got to go out there and play harder than them for 40 minutes."

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