No. 1 Kentucky pushes win streak to 24

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 10, 2012
Anthony Davis had 15 points and 12 rebounds, and the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats held off Florida 74-71 on Saturday in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament. Terrence Jones added 15 points and nine rebounds for the Wildcats (32-1), who've won 24 straight games. Doron Lamb scored 16 points and Marquis Teague added 15, with each hitting a pair of key free throws in the last 15 seconds to secure the win against a Florida team which shot 48 percent, including 11 of 22 from 3-point range. Erik Murphy had 24 points, on 9 of 12 shooting, and nearly lifted Florida (23-10) to the upset with nine points in the final minutes. Bradley Beal added 20 points. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 10 points for Kentucky, which has survived two straight tight games. The Wildcats have never led either game by more than nine points to advance to Sunday's tournament final against the winner of Mississippi and Vanderbilt. Kentucky shot 45 percent (27 of 60) and outrebounded Florida 39-25. The Wildcats grabbed 16 offensive rebounds. There was also a significant disparity in free throws, with Kentucky hitting 15 of 20 and Florida going 2 for 2. Florida led 56-51 on Patric Young's jump hook with 10:43 to go, but the Gators' offense, so consistent to that point, suddenly lost its rhythm. Florida went without a field goal for more than six minutes without scoring while the Wildcats surged in front 65-56 with a 14-0 run. Jones hit a 3 and added a follow-up one-handed jam of Davis' missed jumper during the spurt. As his 3 swirled through the hoop, Jones turned to the boisterous and heavily pro-Kentucky crowd, made the hand signal for a 3 and held it to his face, looking through the circle formed by his thumb and index finger. Just when it appeared the Gators were teetering on collapse, Murphy scored seven straight points to pull Florida to 65-63. Davis' putback after Teague's missed free throw gave Kentucky a 68-63 lead, but Beal responded with a quick 3 from several feet behind the arc to make it 68-66 in a back-and-forth finish. After Jones hit a pair of free throws to push Kentucky's lead back to four, Murphy answered with a putback with 17 seconds left, keeping the pressure on the Wildcats. Florida shot close to 60 percent through the first 15 minutes and did not trail once until the final seconds of the first half. Beal hit a 3 to open the game and Murphy made two more soon after, and the Gators hit five of their first eight attempts from deep, with Beal's second putting Florida ahead 31-21. Beal had 12 points in the opening 20 minutes, and the Gators' outside shooting opened up the inside for Young, who had eight first half points on a layup and several short jump hooks. Florida led 39-32 on Walker's layup with 4:25 left in the half, but Kentucky's defense tightened up after that, not allowing the Gators another point before halftime. Lamb's 3 ignited an 8-0 run to close the period. Davis, who had only one point in the first half of Friday's victory over LSU, had a much better start against Florida, and Kentucky needed it. He made four of his first six shots for 10 points, including a 3 that gave Kentucky its first lead of the game at 40-39 15 seconds before halftime.
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