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UK, UF to face off in SEC title game
SEC Vanderbilt Florid Heal
Florida guard Kenny Boynton, right, embraces guard Erving Walker (11) after the Gators defeated Vanderbilt 77-66 at the Southeastern Conference tournament Saturday in Atlanta. - photo by Associated Press

    ATLANTA — Florida trotted off to the locker room trailing again.
    No problem.
    The 12th-ranked Gators had 'em right where they wanted 'em.
    With Kenny Boynton scoring 24 points and Erving Walker adding 17, Florida recovered from another slow start to beat Vanderbilt 77-66 in the Southeastern Conference semifinals Saturday.
    For the second straight day, and seventh time this season, the Gators came back from a halftime deficit.
    "They got hot in the second half and made some tough ones, but that's what they do," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "That's what they've done all season. That's why they're the league champion."
    The regular-season champion Gators (26-6) matched their biggest comeback of the season, overcoming a 12-point deficit early in the second half. They will meet Kentucky in the championship game Sunday.
    Florida beat the Commodores (23-10) at their 3-point game. Boynton hit five shots from beyond the arc, Walker made three and the Gators finished 11 of 21 overall.
    Vanderbilt was just 6 of 33, and SEC leading scorer John Jenkins had a particularly tough day. Coming off a 29-point performance in the quarterfinals, he looked as though an ailing left foot was bothering him more than it did against Mississippi State. He scored just 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting.
    Jeffery Taylor led the Commodores with 21 points.
    On Friday, the Gators were down 34-29 to Tennessee before putting up a 56-point second half — their highest-scoring period of the season.
    This one was nearly as good, equaling their comeback from 12 points down against Kansas State on Dec. 18.
    Vanderbilt was up 36-28 at the break and pushed it to 40-28 in the opening minutes of the second half. But coach Billy Donovan has gotten used to slow starts. Once Walker and Boynton began making shots, the Gators were hard to stop.
    "It looks like we're waiting to see what we've got to do instead of coming out and doing what we need to do," Donovan said. "But they're a resilient group."
    Early on, Walker carried the rally almost single-handedly. He made a couple of 3s, then back-to-back jumpers from a little closer and finally a layup, banked in high off the glass, after a steal by Scottie Wilbekin. Just like that, Vandy's big lead had been whittled to 48-47.
    Down the stretch, Boynton and Walker teamed up to help put away the Commodores. Boynton knocked down a pair of 3-pointers sandwiched around a nifty reverse lay-in flying off the baseline. Then Walker swished a 3 from the corner, stretching Florida's lead to 68-61 with 3:47 remaining.
    Vandy called timeout. Boynton and Walker chest-bumped each other and hopped toward the bench.
    "Taylor was on my back the whole game," Walker said. "I just tried to stay patient and get in good spots for shots and my players were able to find me. We've just got to keep shooting with confidence."
    Both he and Boynton knew they had a green light from Donovan to keep firing away.
    "We love to take those shots," Boynton said. "I think he gives us the freedom to take those shots because he knows we can make them. We needed somebody to give us an offensive spark. Erving started it out and I just tried to keep it going."

Kentucky 72, Alabama 58
    Kentucky looks very much like a young team peaking at just the right time.
    Except for one little issue.
    Do the No. 15 Wildcats have enough players heading into the Southeastern Conference title game and the tournament that really matters?
    Brandon Knight finally got rolling in Atlanta, scoring 10 straight points to blow it open, and Kentucky romped to a 72-58 semifinal victory over Alabama on Saturday.
    "We'd have smacked anybody the way we played," coach John Calipari said.
    But the closing minutes, with Kentucky way out in front, must have been disconcerting to the Bluegrass faithful. Calipari only has six players in his rotation — including three freshmen — and as the clock ticked down, the Wildcats still had four starters and main backup DeAndre Liggins on the court.
    "I even had an assistant saying, 'Do you want to get these guys out?'" Calipari said.
    Maybe he should've listened.
    First, Liggins tumbled to the court hard and limped to the locker room. Then, Doron Lamb went down going for a rebound, spraining his left ankle. He rolled around in obvious pain and couldn't put any pressure on it as he was helped to the bench by teammate Josh Harrellson and a member of the basketball staff.
    Liggins called his injury just a "minor tweak" to the ankle. Lamb's appeared more serious, with Calipari saying he could be doubtful for Sunday's SEC title game against regular-season champion Florida, a 77-66 victor over Vanderbilt.
    "We'll see how bad he wants to play," Calipari said. "We'll play without him if we have to."
    The coach said he kept his starters in the game because Alabama was pressing on every possession, fighting to the very end to cut into its big deficit.
    "You don't know my bench," said Calipari, whose team has won seven of eight, the last five in a row. "If they had stopped pressing, I would have started subbing at 3 minutes (to go)."
    That said, he's decided that this is the way it must be: Kentucky will only go with six players right on into the NCAA tournament, assuming he can keep them all healthy.

"One thing I've learned about young players: they have the pain threshold of a fourth-grader," Calipari scoffed.

The Wildcats (24-8) raced to a 37-21 halftime lead, even with Knight missing all four of his shots. Alabama (21-11) scored two quick baskets to start the second half before the freshman guard put an end to any thought of another big comeback by the Crimson Tide.

He knocked down his first two 3-pointers of the tournament, bolted into the lane for a layin and came off a screen to swish another jumper with a hand in his face, stretching Kentucky's lead to 51-30.

Lamb led the Wildcats with 15 points, while Harrellson and Liggins had 14 apiece, Knight 12 and Darius Miller 10.

Knight, the freshman who makes Kentucky go, got off to a slow start in Atlanta. He was only 5 of 15 — including 0 of 6 from 3-point range — in a quarterfinal victory over Mississippi. He missed three more 3s in the opening half against Alabama, leaving him scoreless beyond the arc.

He soon took care of that, and the Wildcats were off and running.

Alabama was coming off an improbable victory over Georgia in the quarterfinals, rallying from a 14-point deficit in the final 7 minutes and winning in overtime.

The Crimson Tide will have to hope that's enough to claim an NCAA bid. The team came to Atlanta squarely on the bubble despite winning the SEC West with a gaudy 12-4 record, saddled with three ugly losses early in the season and a low RPI rating.

A win over Kentucky almost certainly would've locked up a berth for the Tide. Now, it will be a nervous Sunday as the team waits to see if it's among the 68-school field.

"I think we've had a very good year, considering where we started and where we finished up," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "The SEC was our focus. Whatever happens will happen. Whatever happens won't diminish what these guys accomplished this year."

Alabama was hampered by an injury to Tony Mitchell, who was on the bench for a long stretch in the first half after getting his left leg tangled with a teammate. He was able to return after the break and led the Tide with 16 points.

JaMychal Green added 12 and Chris Hines 10.

Kentucky was technically the road team, but in name only.

As usual, the Wildcats felt right at home in the SEC tournament, with virtually the entire crowd at the Georgia Dome dressed in blue. That's especially the case in Atlanta, which the Kentucky fans have renamed "Catlanta."

Alabama won the regular-season meeting, edging the Wildcats 68-66 in Tuscaloosa. But Kentucky is streaking now, its only loss since mid-February an overtime setback at Arkansas.

"Kentucky was very good," Grant said. "They came out right from the beginning. We were playing catch-up the entire game."