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Dance step away

Arkansas upsets LSU, moves into SEC final

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Posted: Sunday March 12, 2000 10:16 AM

  Carl Baker Arkansas' Carl Baker came away with an easy dunk in the second half. AP

ATLANTA (AP) -- And then there were none.

Arkansas knocked off the last of four teams that shared the Southeastern Conference regular-season title, upsetting No. 10 LSU 69-67 in the semifinals of the league tournament Saturday.

Joe Johnson scored 21 points and Louisiana native Brandon Dean added a career-high 20, including a key basket with 22.6 seconds remaining. Arkansas turned the tide with a 23-4 run in the second half and advanced to the title game for the second year in a row.

The Razorbacks (18-14) came to Atlanta knowing they needed four victories in four days to reach the NCAA tournament. The last team standing in the way is Auburn, which defeated South Carolina 77-72 in the other semifinal.

Unlikely finalists
No one expected Arkansas to reach the SEC tournament final, but the Razorbacks are there after edging LSU 69-67.

Likewise, no one figured Auburn would do much once Chris Porter was officially declared ineligible. But the Tigers are in the conference title game after beating South Carolina 77-72 in overtime. 
The tournament champion earns an automatic trip to the NCAAs. Auburn (23-8) is already in, but Arkansas would likely be relegated to the National Invitation Tournament without a victory Sunday.

Returning to its "40 minutes of hell" style of play for the postseason, Arkansas has forced 76 turnovers in three games at the Georgia Dome.

"That's my kind of game," Razorbacks coach Nolan Richardson said. "Our kids are learning how to play. We have an idea we're going to make the other team cough up the ball."

LSU had a season-high 25 turnovers, leading to 23 points for the Razorbacks and snapping its 10-game winning streak -- longest since 1980-81.

"I think they did a nice job of quick-handing us and knocking balls away," LSU coach John Brady said. "The 25-turnover stat cost us the game."

LSU (26-5) was the only survivor from the quarterfinals among the four teams that shared the regular-season championship. No. 8 Tennessee, No. 11 Florida and 16 Kentucky were all beaten Friday.

The Tigers couldn't make it past Arkansas, which looked like the fresher team despite playing until past midnight in its quarterfinal victory over Kentucky.

Not so four-tunate
Results of SEC finalists who played four games
Year  Team  Result 
1979  Kentucky  L 69-75 Tennessee 
1983  Alabama  L 72-86 Georgia 
1985  Auburn  W 53-49 Alabama 
1987  LSU  L 62-69 Alabama 
1988  Georgia  L 57-62 Kentucky 
1991  Tennessee  L 69-88 Alabama 
1997  Georgia  L 68-95 Kentucky 
"LSU played well in spurts. Arkansas played well the whole game," said Jabari Smith, who scored 12 points for the Tigers. "We didn't respond like we normally would."

The Razorbacks trailed 44-38 after Smith scored for LSU with 15:58 remaining. But Arkansas turned up the pressure on defense, igniting a 17-0 run that turned the tide.

The Tigers wouldn't quit, rebounding from a 61-48 deficit with just over eight minutes to go. Jermaine Williams hit a couple of 3-pointers and LSU tied it at 65 by forcing two straight turnovers.

Smith picked off an errant pass and fed the ball to William's, who made the lay-up, was fouled by T.O. Cleveland and made the free throw to cut Arkansas' lead to 65-63 with 1:35 left. After the inbound, Stormile Swift tipped away another pass, the ball going straight to Lamont Roland for the tying basket with 1:30 remaining.

But Johnson put the Razorbacks ahead to stay on a free throw with 1:01 left, and Williams was stripped of the ball by Cleveland while driving toward the basket. With the shot clock running down, Dean put up an off-balance, one-handed floater at the edge of the lane, the ball falling through for a 68-65 lead.

Collis Temple III fired up an airball on a desperation 3-pointer, though Roland scooped up the rebound and hit the outback with 1.4 seconds remaining. LSU got a quick foul and Dean made only one free throw, but the Tigers didn't have time to set up another shot.

"I don't think our team played particularly well until the game was almost over and we thought we were going to lose it," Brady said. "Then we got aggressive."

Swift, the SEC's co-player of the year, led LSU with 13 points. The Tigers lost despite shooting 50 percent (23-of-46) from the field and the Razorbacks 40-24.

"We waited too long to play defense," Swift said.

Arkansas became the eighth team in the SEC tournament's modern era to reach the final with three straight victories. Only one, Auburn in 1985, managed to win the championship with its fourth victory in four days. Arkansas has never won the SEC tournament since joining the league for the 1991-92 season.

LSU, which was picked to finish last in the Western Division after going 6-26 in the SEC the last two seasons, is assured of a spot in the 64-team NCAA field but missed a chance to improve its seed.

"We have a new season starting next week," Brady said. "But where we were at the beginning of the year ... you have to compliment the players."

Related information
Inside the SEC: Vandy needs a win
Hot hand could prove big for best of the best
Closer Look: Tigers learn to play without Porter
Auburn eliminates South Carolina 77-72 in OT
Arkansas-LSU Game Summary
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