NEW ORLEANS — If John Calipari’s top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats encounter late-game adversity in the NCAA Tournament, they’ll know how to handle it.
Anthony Davis had 15 points and 12 rebounds, and Kentucky held off Florida 74-71 on Saturday in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
“I’ve got this team that has that will to win. They want to win. They have great pride,” said Calipari, whose team has trailed in the second half of each of its first two SEC Tournament games and never led either by more than single digits.
“We’re just really a young team that – every one of these experiences is good for my team.”
Terrence Jones added 15 points and nine rebounds for the Wildcats (32-1), who have won 24 consecutive games and play in today’s final against Vanderbilt.
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 a career-high 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, but it was not enough to prevent the Gators from falling to 0-3 against the Wildcats this season.
VANDERBILT 65, MISSISSIPPI 53
John Jenkins scored 23 points, Brad Tinsley added 12 and Vanderbilt beat Mississippi.
It’s the first trip to the SEC Championship game for Vanderbilt (23-10) since 1951, when the Commodores beat Kentucky 61-57. They’ve finally got another chance at a title thanks to timely outside shooting from Jenkins and Tinsley, who combined to hit five 3-pointers in the second half.
After a cold first half, Vanderbilt hit 50 percent (6 of 12) from 3-point range in the second half.
Vanderbilt outrebounded Ole Miss 36-29. Lance Goulbourne added 10 points and 12 rebounds for the Commodores.
Ole Miss (20-13) briefly took a 32-31 lead early in the second half, but Vanderbilt eventually buried the Rebels with well-timed 3-pointers and relentless defense.
The Rebels were led by Jarvis Summers, who scored 15 points.