NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - John Calipari only hopes his young
Kentucky Wildcats' first postseason game delivered the message he's
been trying to send - tournament time requires more intensity and
desire than the regular season.
John Wall had 23 points, including seven straight in the second
half to give the Wildcats the lead for good, and No. 2 Kentucky
overcame an 11-point deficit Friday in beating Alabama 73-67 in the
Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinals.
"I'm trying to convince this young team of 19-year-olds that
either you want it more than they do or they want it more than you
do," Calipari said.
"And whoever's in that mode in this tournament and the next one
is going to win. And it's just hard. I mean you think you've
cracked it, and they've understood, then they come out the next
game, and you know well, 'He pushed me, and I tried.' He tried
harder. You've got to try harder. All those kinds of things are
what we're dealing with right now."
The win gave Kentucky its 12th 30-win season - the most by any
school - and the Wildcats' first since 2003 when they went 32-4.
It's also the fifth straight such season for Calipari and seventh
overall to tie him with Connecticut's Jim Calhoun for third-most
Kentucky (30-2) will play either No. 15 Tennessee or Mississippi
in the semifinals Saturday in its quest to add a 26th tournament
title to the 44th regular-season championship.
Patrick Patterson scored 20 and Eric Bledsoe 10 for Kentucky.
DeMarcus Cousins, who had 18 double-doubles this season averaging
15.6 points and 10 rebounds per game, finished with seven points
and eight boards.
Mikhail Torrance led Alabama (17-15) with 20 points. JaMychal
Green added 14 and Tony Mitchell 10. Alabama outrebounded Kentucky
45-33 and scored 22 second-chance points in jumping out to the
early lead and staying close until the end.
"For us to outrebound them I think shows our guys competed, we
fought, but it wasn't enough to win tonight," said Alabama
first-year coach Anthony Grant, who's now hoping for an NIT berth.
"To say a tough defeat would be an understatement. Our guys
came out today, and we played to win and certainly had
opportunities in the game," he said. "Unfortunately, we weren't
able to finish."
The Tide just couldn't match Wall or the crowd in essentially a
road game in Rupp Arena South as Wildcat fans painted the inside of
Bridgestone Arena blue.
Kentucky improved to 112-22 in this tournament and 9-1 in
Nashville. The Wildcats now are 4-1 against Alabama in the
quarterfinals, a program that ranks second to Kentucky in the
number of tournament wins and titles in the league.
The Wildcats lead the series 100-35, including nine of the last
11 and five straight, even though fans didn't get to crank up into
a full roar until the second half. That's when Wall took over and
put Kentucky ahead to stay with his spurt, the last a three-point
play to put the Wildcats up 43-42, their first lead since they were
"They told me the whole game to push it in transition, but I
wasn't getting there. I was trying to find my teammates," Wall
said. "Second half, I found the gaps and got into the lane."
The freshman had brought fans to their feet with a driving
layup, and waved his arms to urge them to turn up the volume as he
went back down the floor after his next inside bucket. He followed
with another layup to tie it at 42 with 13:51 remaining, drawing
the foul that let him put the Wildcats ahead with the free throw.
"He's a great point guard," said Torrance, who tried to guard
Wall. "There's a reason he was the SEC player of the year. I tried
to make it as tough as I can. He just made some plays."
That started a 19-5 spurt as Bledsoe followed with a layup.
Senario Hillman drove the baseline to pull Alabama within 45-44
before Patterson hit a pair of free throws and Daniel Orton dunked
for Kentucky's biggest lead of the game at 49-45.
The Wildcats pushed it to 55-45 when Wall followed up Bledsoe's
miss with a dunk midway through the half.
Alabama, which rallied from 18 points down on Thursday to beat
South Carolina, struggled with six of eight players in foul
trouble. Torrance's two free throws pulled the Tide within 66-63
with 1:44 left.
Patterson answered with a dunk, and Wall hit four of six free
throws to seal the victory. Two of those came after he bobbled the
ball on his way to what appeared to be a celebratory dunk before he
dribbled back out and was fouled.
Fans that rolled into town as early as Wednesday to start
enjoying the Wildcats' pursuit of their first tournament title
since 2004 warmed up with a pep rally Friday morning - nearly three
hours before tipoff.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive started the party off inside the
arena by presenting the Wildcats' their regular-season trophy about
10 minutes before tipoff. The players held it up for fans to enjoy
and waved hands, encouraging them to yell, as if that was
The Tide came out and hit four of their first five 3s while the
Wildcats missed their first eight attempts even with good looks and
finished 1 of 13. Alabama took advantage of Cousins playing only 10
minutes with foul trouble to outrebound Kentucky 26-16 and led by
as much as 11, the last at 26-15.
It wasn't until Darnell Dodson scored from the left side a
couple seconds before the buzzer that Kentucky finally found the
range, and that trimmed Alabama's lead to 35-30 at halftime.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)