Kentucky will play Florida in the SEC tournament final after defeating Georgia 70-58 in the semifinals.
Aaron Harrison led the way for the Wildcats with 22 points while his brother Andrew tallied a career-high nine assists. Kentucky also dominated the interior with a 36-21 rebounding advantage to help in coming away with the victory.
Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports notes that this is the second-straight strong performance for John Calipari's squad in the SEC tournament:
Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann combined for 25 points, but they were the only Bulldogs in double figures as they now appear unlikely to find a spot in the NCAA tournament.
The Wildcats started off strong with a 12-2 run in the first four minutes of the game. However, Georgia was able to keep it close and held the score to 36-32 at halftime.
Still, Kentucky kept the pressure on and found a way to pull away in the middle of the second half. As Kyle Tucker of the Courier-Journal noted, Aaron Harrison carried the offense for this stretch:
The Bulldogs made some shots late, but they could not keep up with the talent on the floor and ended up falling 12 points short.
Kentucky has had an up-and-down season that featured three losses in four games coming into the SEC tournament. However, Calipari had the squad believe in a fresh start for the postseason.
Andrew Harrison explained the situation after the quarterfinal win over LSU, via Tucker:
It was just erasing all the wins and losses we had, and Coach told us we had a new slate and we had to go play. ...You just have to come out on the court and perform. But I think it just represented that we have a new slate. We have to come out and play. We’re 0-0.
This seems to have made a big impact because the Wildcats are arguably playing as well as they have all year. A win over Florida in the finals would certainly give them even more confidence heading into the Big Dance.
Aaron Harrison, Kentucky: A
While the freshman guard has had an up-and-down season, this was one of his better games of his career. Harrison made shots from the outside while also driving into the lane and finishing inside or drawing a foul.
The guard finished with 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting plus 4-of-5 from the free-throw line. This variety of scoring makes him difficult to guard.
If he can take over as a consistent scoring threat in the NCAA tournament, Kentucky can go a long way.
Julius Randle, Kentucky: B+
One of the major reasons Kentucky was able to pull away in this game was its dominance on the boards, thanks mostly to the effort of Randle inside.
He finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds, keeping him on a historic pace for his freshman year:
Although he did not have his best scoring day of the year, he still made a huge impact in the win. The big man is a force in the low post and will be tough to defend for the rest of the year.
Charles Mann, Georgia: B-
In the last two games, Mann had been playing lights-out basketball with 22 points against LSU and 16 against Ole Miss, including the game-winning shot. While he finished with 12 points against Kentucky, he lacked efficiency in the loss while hitting 4 of his 10 shots.
The guard was the only player besides Kenny Gaines consistently taking shots for the Bulldogs, and the opposing defense was too tough to overcome.
Fortunately, the sophomore has plenty of potential and should be a big contributor for Georgia over the next few years.
Kentucky will move onto the finals of the SEC tournament to face Florida, which defeated Tennessee 56-49 earlier on Saturday. Considering the Gators have not lost to an SEC team all season, this will be quite a challenge.
Georgia likely does not have enough quality wins to get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, so the squad will have to hope that a NIT bid is in the future.
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