Sunday, March 11, 2001

Kentucky gets revenge on Arkansas

Wildcats play Mississippi today for SEC title

AP Sports Writer

        NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Things are back to normal in the Southeastern Conference tournament. The Kentucky Wildcats are in the championship game once again.

        Keith Bogans had 23 points and 10 rebounds as No. 15 Kentucky rallied from 15 points down in the first half to beat Arkansas 87-78 Saturday in the semifinals.

        The Wildcats improved to an incredible 31-1 in the semifinals and a perfect 9-0 since the league split into two divisions in 1992.

        Kentucky (21-9) missed the title game last season courtesy of Arkansas, which sent the Wildcats home in the second round. But the Kentucky fans that turned the Gaylord Entertainment Center blue on Saturday gave their Wildcats a boost when they needed it most.

        Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson estimated that up to 80 percent of the 20,225 fans wore Kentucky blue.

        “It is something that helps you more than anyone can imagine. That's why they're so dominant in tournament play,” Richardson said.

        “The greatest thing about fans is that they pump the kids up when they're just about maybe out. They give them that extra life. You have to give Kentucky tremendous credit. They do buy tickets and find ways into the building even when there's supposed to be only 1,200 here.”

        Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, now 8-1 in this tournament with the Wildcats, was happy.

        “Our kids showed a lot of heart and a lot of courage to come back the way they did in the second half. I'm just glad we came out on top,” he said.

        The Wildcats will play No. 14 Mississippi, which upset fifth-ranked Florida 74-69, for the championship Sunday. Kentucky has won seven of the last nine SEC titles.

        The victory allowed Kentucky to reassert its dominance over Arkansas (20-10). The Razorbacks' second-round victory over Kentucky last year is their only win in eight tournament meetings.

        Kentucky has won the conference tournament 22 times, more than all the other SEC schools combined.

        The Razorbacks came in with a six-game winning streak that included an 82-78 home victory over the Wildcats two weeks ago. They looked like they would make it three straight over Kentucky when they opened the game by hitting six of their first 10 3-pointers.

        “I felt like we had taken their best shots,” said Smith, who challenged his Wildcats to contest Arkansas' shooters more in the second half. “The kids listened and responded in a positive way.”

        But Kentucky scored the first six points of the second half and forced Arkansas into three turnovers on its first five possessions, getting the fans on their feet. Even though the Razorbacks didn't make a field goal until the 14:50 mark, Kentucky still trailed 46-39 after Joe Johnson's jumper.

        Johnson said playing the late game Friday night took its toll physically.

        “Down the stretch, it got real hard on us. We couldn't seem to get our second wind to counteract some of the runs they were throwing at us,” Johnson said.

        The Wildcats needed a 9-1 spurt keyed by a pair of 3s from Gerald Fitch before they took their first lead of the half, 52-51, on a three-point play by Marvin Stone with 10:57 left.

        Arkansas managed to tie it one more time at 53 before Tayshaun Prince hit a hook shot and Bogans added a 3. The closest the Razorbacks could get after that was three, as Kentucky went ahead by as much as 11 down the stretch.

        Prince added 19 points and 10 rebounds for Kentucky, Fitch finished with 17, and Stone had 11.

        Johnson led Arkansas with 24 points, Brandon Dean had 16, Teddy Gipson 11 and Jannero Pargo 10.

        Arkansas led 42-33 at halftime thanks to a 14-3 run that put the Razorbacks up 29-18 with 7:27 to go. The Wildcats went nearly seven minutes without a field goal and made only four free throws during that stretch.

        Dean's 3 gave the Razorbacks a 40-25 advantage, but Bogans helped jump-start Kentucky with his first basket in 10 minutes and then a 3-pointer that brought the Wildcats fans to their feet.

        Erik Daniels' bucket with 1:22 remaining cut the lead to 40-32.


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