SEC Tournament roundup
Mississippi State cools LSU, Kentucky blows out AuburnPosted: Saturday March 15, 2003 3:35 PM
Updated: Saturday March 15, 2003 10:37 PM
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Kentucky found itself in an unusual position at halftime. The ending was all too familiar.
With highly ranked teams falling all around, the No. 2 Wildcats stayed on course with a 78-58 victory over Auburn in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament Saturday.
The game was actually tied at halftime, the first game in more than two months that Kentucky (28-3) wasn't leading at the break.
But the Wildcats turned up the defensive pressure and outscored Auburn 44-22 over the final 20 minutes, coasting to their 22nd victory in a row.
"In the first half, our defensive intensity wasn't where it needed to be," Kentucky star Keith Bogans said. "We came out in the second half and took them out of the game."
Bogans set the tone for the turnaround by asking the coaches if he could guard Auburn's best player, Marquis Daniels, who had 12 points in the first half. With Bogans in his face, Daniels managed only four points the rest of the way on 1-of-7 shooting.
"It's very difficult trying to match their intensity," Daniels said. "Once they get going, it's tough to play against them."
Kentucky's Erik Daniels came back from a scary fall to score 17 points, but the Wildcats never rely on one player. Bogans and Gerald Fitch each had 13 points, and six other players also scored.
"We have a lot of players contributing in a lot of ways," coach Tubby Smith said. "I think that's the strength of this team."
The Wildcats will meet Mississippi State in Sunday's title game, probably assured of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament no matter the outcome. Not that Kentucky would be satisfied with anything less than its 24th tournament championship after going 16-0 in the SEC during the regular season.
Auburn (20-11) will spend a nervous day waiting to see whether it will be part of the NCAA field for the first time since 2000. The Tigers were No. 39 in the RPI rankings and played an extremely weak nonconference schedule.
"Our team has done its job," coach Cliff Ellis insisted. "If we don't make it, it will be a disappointment."
Showing no signs of a letdown, Kentucky has managed to avoid the string of March upsets affecting many of country's top teams.
No. 1 Arizona, No. 3 Texas, No. 4 Kansas, No. 7 Florida, No. 8 Marquette, No. 9 Wake Forest and No. 10 Xavier all lost in their conference tournaments this weekend.
"We see it, but we try not to pay too much attention to it," Bogans said. "We just want to do the things we've been doing, and everything else will take care of itself."
Tied 36-all at the half, Kentucky blew out the Tigers with a dazzling display.
From the outside, Bogans sank a couple of 3-pointers. So did Fitch. Cliff Hawkins connected from long range, too.
On the inside, Erik Daniels and Chuck Hayes camped out under the basket to tip in missed shots while the Tigers -- like undersized kids on the playground -- tried in vain to get their hands on the ball.
In the most telling example of Kentucky's athleticism, 6-foot-11 Jules Camara soared beyond the baseline to save a loose ball, firing it back to Fitch standing behind the arc. Of course, he swished the 3.
Kentucky made 15 of 28 shots in the second half, including 5-of-9 outside the stripe. The Wildcats outrebounded Auburn 24-11 to finish with a commanding 43-29 lead.
Auburn went just 9-of-27 (33 percent) from the field after halftime.
Erik Daniels gave the Wildcat faithful a scare when he slammed to the court after a big dunk with 4:01 left in the first half. The 6-foot-8 forward tried to grab on to the rim, but slipped off and landed hard on his side with a sickening thud.
Daniels was helped up, grimacing as he went to the locker room for treatment. He wasn't gone long, checking back in to a big cheer with 2:11 remaining in the half, and went on to make 8 of 11 shots and grab eight rebounds.
"My [right] hand is a little sore, but it will be all right," Daniels said.
Joining Marquis Daniels, Brandon Robinson was the only other Auburn player in double figures with 17 points.
The crowd of 21,427 at the Louisiana Superdome heavily favored Kentucky, drowning out small pockets of orange-clad Auburn fans with rollicking chants of "Go Big Blue!"
Still, the Tigers managed to hold off an immediate blowout, hanging with Kentucky in the first half. There were five lead changes and neither team led by more than six before Bogans hit a runner in the lane to tie the score at the break.
"You've got to fight through the chaos," Robinson said. "If you can fight through the chaos, you'll be all right."
The 36-36 tie was a shocking development. The Wildcats had led at the break in 15 consecutive games since Jan. 14, when they trailed 36-28 at Vanderbilt. That night, they outscored the Commodores 46-16 over the final 20 minutes to win in a rout.
Mississippi State 76, LSU 61
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Mississippi State, led by Timmy Bowers' 6-of-9 3-point shooting, ended LSU's seven-game winning streak with a 76-61 victory in the semifinal round of the Southeastern Conference tournament on Saturday.
It was the second straight year that Mississippi State (21-8), the West's No. 1 seed and defending tournament champion, beat LSU (21-10) in the tournament semifinal.
The victory was Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury's 100th.
Mississippi State, which shot 33.7 percent from the arc going into the game, made 52.6 percent (10-19) against LSU.
Bowers led the Bulldogs with 26 points. Mario Austin, who announced earlier in the week he will return for his senior season, scored 14, while Michal Ignerrski scored 15. Point guard Derrick Zimmerman nearly chipped in a triple double, with nine points, nine rebounds and 11 assists.
Jamie Lloreda, Collis Temple III and Antonio Hudson led LSU with 11 points each. Torris Bright scored 10. Lloreda also grabbed 11 rebounds. Ronald Dupree, who had scored in double figures for 29 straight games, was held to nine points.
The Bulldogs, ranked second in the SEC in points allowed at 60.6 per game, held LSU, which was playing its third game in as many days, to 43.6 percent from the field.
LSU, which had outshot its opponents in 11 of the last 12 games, struggled inside and outside. The Tigers had made 66 of 132 3-pointers during their seven-game winning streak, but made just 6 of 15 from that distance against Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs outscored LSU 38-22 in the paint, and scored 18 points off LSU's 18 turnovers.
The Tigers trailed from the opening minutes of the game. In the second half, LSU pulled to within three points (45-42) on a layup by Lloreda with 16:16 to go. It was the closest they were to get.
Mississippi State pulled ahead on a 10-0 run, fueled by three-pointers from Austin and Bower and never allowed the Tigers closer than six down the stretch.
The Bulldogs took a 14-point lead in the first half, shooting 59 percent from the field early on and going 5-for-5 from 3-point distance.
Ignerski's layup with 7:12 remaining gave Mississippi State a 30-16 lead. The Tigers staged a 16-4 run to cut the Bulldogs lead to 34-32 at halftime.