Kentucky rolls past Georgia into SEC finals

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 15, 2014 

  • Sunday

    SEC Tournament finals: Kentucky vs. No. 1 Florida

    When: 3:15 p.m. Where: Atlanta

    TV/radio: ESPN; WBUL-FM 98.1, WLAP-AM 630

    NCAA Tournament Selection Show

    When: 6 p.m.

    TV/radio: CBS-27; WLXG-AM 1300

ATLANTA — After Kentucky lost at No. 1 Florida last weekend, Andrew and Aaron Harrison had a heart-to-heart-to-heart conversation with their father.

"He just told us don't worry about next year," Andrew Harrison said Saturday. "Just worry about the next practice. Just don't worry about all that stuff. Just play and have fun and play like you used to and everything will fall into place."

Don't worry/be happy helped a rejuvenated Kentucky beat Georgia 70-58 and set up a third game against Florida, this time for the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship on Sunday.

The Harrison twins factored large in the victory over Georgia. For a second straight game, Andrew set a career high for assists, getting nine against the Dawgs. For a second straight game, Aaron swished jump shots. He led the Cats with 22 points, the most he'd scored since scoring 23 against Belmont on Dec. 21.

After a tumultuous regular season, the Cats again played relatively free and easy. Andrew Harrison said that description applied to him.

"It helped me take a deep breath and relax," he said of speaking to his father, Aaron. "And think about what we could accomplish."

Andrew Harrison, who had 17 assists in UK's first two games here, acknowledged the burden of following in Coach John Calipari's line of stellar point guards: Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague. "Oh yeah, definitely," he said. "When you do come in here, people have great expectations for you. And you have to live up to them.

"My problem is playing inconsistently."

The players credited Calipari with helping lighten the mood after a regular season that ESPN analyst Dick Vitale labeled a "major disappointment."

"Really, Coach chilled a little bit," said James Young, who scored 14 points. "He just let us play basketball."

When asked to define Calipari in repose, Young said, "He's just relaxing. He'll sit on the bench for a little bit and talk to the coaches. I see it a lot when I'm on the bench. He's not into the referees' face like you all have been seeing. ... Really not messing with the refs. He's just letting the refs ref."

Aaron Harrison echoed the sentiment.

"He's being more positive," he said of the UK coach, "and helping us."

Andrew Harrison warmed to a question about a cooler, calmer Calipari. "Definitely," he said. "Because, I think, of our play. He doesn't have to do so much coaching for effort and stuff like that."

Kentucky (24-9) looked more relaxed in beating Georgia. The Cats hammered Georgia on the boards 36-21, made 51 percent of their shots, accepted more or less graciously 14 first-half fouls and, for a second straight game, had more assists (12) than turnovers (10).

Willie Cauley-Stein credited Andrew Harrison's relaxed and productive presence for setting a tone. "You all see it," he said to reporters. "It helps our team out and it gets everybody else doing the same thing. Everybody's sharing the ball. It's making everybody more efficient and making everybody have fun."

Kentucky led 36-32 at halftime, and probably left the court believing the margin should have been larger. The Cats led by as much as 10 points four times, the first time inside the opening four minutes.

Good shooting got Kentucky off well. The Cats made seven of their first eight shots, with Aaron Harrison making three of the shots to start his 16-point half.

"I think we're having more fun," Aaron Harrison said. "That's what it is."

The game wasn't all sunshine. UK missed nine straight shots in a stretch that helped Georgia get close.

Georgia (19-13) had to feel good to be down only 36-32 at halftime after its two players with double-digit scoring averages, Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines, combined to make only two of eight shots and score five points in the first half.

Gaines' first basket of the game reduced Kentucky's lead to 41-39 with 15:05 left.

As against LSU on Friday night, UK responded well. After a timeout, Young drove the baseline for a score. Then Dakari Johnson grabbed a long rebound and drove through traffic for a score.

Aaron's fourth three and a tip-in by Young completed a 12-4 mini-run that gave Kentucky a 53-43 cushion. A wide smile crossed Young's face after he rose over 5-foot-10 freshman J.J. Frazier for a tip-in of one of Aaron Harrison's few misses from beyond the arc.

Will Florida revoke Kentucky's license to chill on Sunday? Cauley-Stein didn't seem to think so.

"Should be a fun game," he said.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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