Opening Act: No. 18 LSU 73, Kentucky 70
Kentucky’s Rupp Arena had an SEC Tournament feel when LSU rolled in looking to clinch a regular-season conference title, but the silence that emanated from the blue-clad fans when the clock hit zero didn’t reflect the tradition and prestige expected.
A three-point win and the final buzzer marked LSU’s fist win at Kentucky in 20 years—the latest in a series of fallen records for the Wildcats while under Billy Gillespie.
LSU went up double digits early, Kentucky fought back to take a 10-point lead of its own, and a drag race ensured for the game’s final segment.
An unexpected twist featured LSU’s Tasmin Mitchell hitting shot after clutch shot rather than Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks. The Wildcat scoring star went dry in the final minutes, including a final effort to tie that only grazed the rim with less than two seconds left.
It was a good effort from Kentucky to make this one a game in the first place, but mark it down as the final effort. This was the Wildcats’ last chance to lay down a signature win in a down year for the SEC.
The next opponent slated for Kentucky is Georgia, a team that faced similar circumstances last season only to win the SEC Tournament. Gillespie should drop a line to former Bulldog coach Dennis Felton on how his team made its run.
Main Event: No. 6 Louisville 62, No. 8 Marquette 58
Rick Pitino and Buzz Williams gathered for a quick handshake following Louisville’s 62-58 win in another epic Eagles-Cardinals clash. Pitino, sporting a white suit along with the rest of washed-out Freedom Hall greeted Williams, who had managed to sweat through a white shirt of his own.
The Louisville coach knows all about wardrobe malfunctions, having to ditch the same suit in last season’s game against Georgetown. This time Pitino was all cool, letting his players do the sweating, the working, and the winning.
Assisting in the Cardinal victory was the absence of Dominic James, out for the season with a foot injury, and Jerel McNeal, who was a meager 3-of-18 from the field.
The Eagles handled Louisville’s frenetic defense well in the first half, walking into the locker room down only three, but the second half was a different story. Marquette repeatedly left over 20 seconds on the shot clock, opting to take iffy three-pointers rather than using speed to get inside and slash to the basket.
Marquette’s speed allowed for plenty of open shots, but they just weren’t falling—except for the tip-in rebound by Louisville’s Earl Clark for the visiting Eagles. It was that kind of day for Clark, who had five turnovers, including a stretch of three-straight possessions where the junior forward gave it away.
No. 2 Connecticut 72, Notre Dame 65: It was a game of statements in Storrs, Conn. Husky fans showed some love for their coach, under scrutiny as of late because of his heaping salary, and the Irish were dealt the final blow in a season full of disappointment.
No. 9 Michigan State 74, No. 20 Illinois 66: The Spartans are back up to speed after some mid-season fumbles. Using an unlikely cast of characters, including little-used grad student Idong Ibok, Michigan State held off a second-half Illini run to clinch a share of the Big 10 regular season crown.
Georgetown 56, No. 10 Villanova 54: Out of nowhere, depth-challenged Georgetown stifled Villanova’s high-octane offense in Philly. Normally adept from the three-point line, the Wildcats hit on only 3-of-18 from deep while the Hoyas tried to prove they still have something worth playing for.
No. 15 Kansas 90, No. 11 Missouri 65: The Border War II, this time played at Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse, didn’t have half the fireworks of the first go-around. Missouri wasn’t able to apply the same pressure away from home, forcing only 16 turnovers compared to 27 in the first meeting.
No. 23 Florida State 73, No. 12 Clemson 66: In typical Clemson fashion, the Tigers are losing grip of success late in the season. Seminole star Tony Douglas opened up the Clemson defense for 23 points and didn’t need a 19-5 run to win like they did three weeks ago.
Washington State 51, No. 14 Arizona State 49: The Sun Devils continue to drop daisies, making the rest of the country wonder what they’ve done this season to deserve a No. 14 ranking. Arizona State lacks depth and isn’t trying to show it. Only seven players saw the court on Saturday, which doesn’t bode well for postseason ventures.
Oklahoma State 68, No. 25 Texas 59: A.J. Abrams and his Texas Longhorns continue to struggle, and Oklahoma was just the latest bump in the road for a team expected to have Final Four hopes. Abrams scored only nine points on 3-of-15 shooting Saturday for a team that hasn’t lived up to their billing.
Tennessee 79, Florida 75: Nick Calethes’s game-high 20 points wasn’t enough to boost Florida’s tournament resume. Tennessee finally won a game they can harp on in conference, knocking off Florida for the fifth straight time.
Opening Act: No. 18 LSU 73, Kentucky 70