ATLANTA (WDRB) — Florida got the first three-game sweep of Kentucky in school history and swept the Southeastern Conference championships with a 61-60 win over Kentucky in the SEC Tournament title game on Sunday, but if there's a way to lose and still have momentum, the Wildcats might've found it.
James Young lost his footing on a curl in the closing seconds and UK never got to even attempt a game-winner as time expired, but after two double-digit losses to the Gators, this time the Wildcats seized the initiative midway through the second half and kept it for the rest of the game.
The Wildcats (24-10) held No. 1 Florida (33-2) scoreless for the final 2:16. They outscored Florida 21-7 over the final 11:05.
Down the stretch, UK's freshmen matched Florida's veterans in the poise department. In their first meeting, Florida dominated the final 11 minutes, scoring on 13 straight possessions for an 11-point lead in Rupp Arena. In their second meeting, on Senior Day in Gainesville, UK closed within six in the second half, only to lose by 18.
"They had every chance to let go of the rope," UK coach John Calipari said. "I told them on the bus today, there's no team that's been through what this team has been through, the barrage, they've stayed together as a unit, they believe in each other, they believe in our staff."
This time, the Wildcats showed a little more staying power. Both teams showed fatigue in the second half of their third game in three days, but UK seemed the more poised team down the stretch, even as Florida made plays it had to make.
A driving layup by Scottie Wilbekin and a basket in the post by Patric Young were Florida's only points in the final 5:05, but UK couldn't claw the way back, even when Florida twice missed the front end of a bonus situation, clinging to a one-point lead with 24 seconds left.
UK grabbed the rebound off the second miss and Calipari called timeout with 14 seconds left to set up a final play. Andrew Harrison held the ball on top, running down the clock, then dribbled to his right and shuffled the ball to Young, who tried to turn the corner moving into the lane from his left but lost his footing and the ball bounced loose while time expired.
"We had our chance," Calipari said. "I don't like calling timeouts. If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't have called a timeout. But in the end, we had what we needed. For us to shoot 35 percent, and be a second away from winning a conference championship is amazing. It means we really showed a lot of fight."
The Harrison twins played their best sustained basketball of the season during the SEC Tournament, though neither had a great shooting day on Sunday. Aaron Harrison finished with 16 points, including some big second-half baskets. Andrew Harrison had 10 points and together they were 10-for-10 from the free-throw line, outscoring Florida's entire team from the stripe. Julius Randle had only four points and seven rebounds, on 1-for-7 shooting. Willie Cauley-Stein gave the Wildcats a second-half lift and finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds.
"We're a brand new team," Cauley-Stein said. "It shows we've got some fight in us."
It also showed that Florida, which moments after their victory was made the tournament's overall No. 1 seed in the South Region, has some fight, too.
The Gators shots did not fall in the second half. But their defense didn't waver. Four Gators scored in double-figures, led by Patric Young and Michael Frazier with 14 each.