GAME NOTES: The SEC Tournament comes to a close on Sunday afternoon with a championship game between the league's two best teams, as the second-seeded Kentucky Wildcats take on the top-seeded and No. 1 ranked Florida Gators at the Georgia Dome.
Kentucky (24-9) is the league's most storied program, having won an incredible 27 tournament titles, although it is looking for its first championship since 2011. The squad stumbled at the tail-end of the regular season with losses in three of four, but it redeemed itself during this event by ousting LSU in the quarterfinals (85-67) and Georgia in the semis (70-58). Against the Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon, the Wildcats shot 51 percent from the field, won the rebounding battle by a 36-21 margin and used a 22-9 run in the second half to separate themselves. Aaron Harrison paced the effort with 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field, including 4-of-7 from 3-point range. James Young netted 14 points, Julius Randle tallied a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds and Andrew Harrison narrowly missed one with 12 points and nine assists.
Florida (31-2) has won three of the past four regular-season SEC titles but is trying for its first tournament championship since winning back-to-back in 2006 and 2007. After the Gators dismissed Missouri in the quarterfinal round on Friday (72-49), they had their hands full with Tennessee in the semifinals but ultimately held on for the 56-49 triumph to extend their program-record winning streak to 25 games. The Gators trailed by seven at the half and continued to trail for most of the second half until, with the game tied at 45 with 4:39 left, they made four consecutive free throws off a Tennessee foul and technical foul to go ahead for good, as they held the Vols to just one field goal over the final 12 minutes. Patric Young led the way with 16 points and eight rebounds, Scottie Wilbekin netted 14 and Casey Prather tallied 12 points and five assists.
The Gators defeated the Wildcats twice this season by a combined 31 points, which included an 85-64 stomping in Gainesville in the regular-season finale. Kentucky still leads the all-time series by a 94-36 count.
The Wildcats have displayed strong balance this season by shooting 45.4 percent from the field for 76.4 ppg, while allowing just 66.8 ppg on just 40.3 percent shooting, and its rebounding margin (+10.1) ranks second best in the nation. Randle has had an excellent freshman season with 15.3 ppg and 10.6 rpg while shooting 50.9 percent from the floor. Fellow first-year players Young (14.6 ppg), Aaron Harrison (13.8 ppg) and Andrew Harrison (10.8 ppg, 3.8 apg) have all impressed as well, while sophomore forward Willie-Cauley Stein (7.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg) is a great defender with 2.9 bpg and 1.1 spg.
The main reason Florida has ascended to No. 1 in the polls has been due to its excellent defensive play, as its allows just 57.9 ppg (fourth-best in the nation), with Young winning SEC Defensive Player of the Year and Wilbekin joining him on the All-Defensive Team. The Gators' offense has been stellar as well, as they shoot 46.3 percent from the field for 71.0 ppg. Prather (14.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg) makes a lofty 61.7 percent of his field goal tries. Wilbekin brings 13.0 ppg to the table, Michael Frazier (12.8 ppg) has drained 103 3- pointers at a 45 percent clip, while Young (11.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and Dorian Finney-Smith (9.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg) are stout in the frontcourt.
Even though the Wildcats have struggled at times this season, their talent has shown in this event and proved why they were once considered one of the nation's elite teams. In the end though, Florida has been so dominant on both ends of the court this season that it has a clear upper hand in this one, especially considering its performances versus UK during the regular season. Expect the Gators to sew up the No. 1 overall seed in next week's NCAA Tournament with a win.