SEC Tournament notes: Kentucky's Randle hoping to shake SEC tourney 'funk'

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 16, 2014 

ATLANTA — For the second time all season, Kentucky freshman star Julius Randle failed to reach double digits in points or rebounds in a game.

Florida's collapsing defense stifled Randle and helped the Gators beat UK 61-60 in the Southeastern Conference finals Sunday. Afterward, Randle acknowledged how he should have found more ways to contribute.

"I could have rebounded better," he said. "... Block shots. Coming up with loose balls."

Randle had four points and seven rebounds. In three SEC Tournament games, he made nine of 29 shots and 15 of 27 free throws, while averaging 11 points and 11.3 rebounds.

When Scottie Wilbekin missed the front end of a one-and-one with 23 seconds left, Dorian Finney-Smith outfought Randle for the rebound.

"We still have some guys that are kind of in a funk right now," UK Coach John Calipari said. "We're trying to make this simple for them. They just have to listen. Real simple so you just play harder than the other guy. That's all we're asking.

"But we just have to get them on the same page with everybody else. Then this thing is on."

14-0 run

As with the game at Florida the previous weekend, UK took solace in a second-half run. This time, UK used a 14-0 run to get back in the game.

"Shows our team has a lot of heart," Randle said. "That's kind of the story of our team all year."

Willie Cauley-Stein noted the momentum created at the SEC Tournament.

"I like where we're at," he said. "We've got to change a few little things and try to make this run."

Meet me in St. Louis

Seemingly irked by being assigned a No. 8-seed, Calipari dismissed the notion of St. Louis being a favorable setting. UK fans can easily get to St. Louis.

"But it's close to Wichita State," he said. "Close to Kansas State. I bet everybody uses up their allotment."

UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart echoed the sentiment.

"Tell me where our fans won't go?" he said. "They go everywhere. They could have shipped us to San Diego, and they would have shown up. We'd have been fine."

Kentucky fans showed up in great numbers at the SEC Tournament.

"Make no mistake about it, today was a road game for us," Florida Coach Billy Donovan said. "These guys (the Gators) won on the road again."

Learning curve

Cauley-Stein found encouragement in UK's performance in the SEC Tournament.

"It kind of shows people who we're going to be," he said. "It just took a season to figure it out."

Irony?

A reporter asked Barnhart about the irony of Kentucky, which began the season amid talk of a 40-0 record, potentially playing a third-round game against Wichita State, which is on pace for a 40-0 record.

"I don't think much about irony," Barnhart said with a smile.

Shooting stat

Florida shot better from three-point range (8-for-19) than from the foul line (7-for-17).

"If you would have shown me the stat sheet (before the game), I would say we're going to have a hard time winning," Donovan said. "Kentucky normally takes more free throws than their opponents."

Florida's accuracy from the foul line was the worst by a UK opponent taking at least 15 free throws since Georgia made six of 16 in the 2004 SEC Tournament.

Three-point defense

UK made three of 11 three-point shots. Florida's three opponents in the SEC Tournament made six of 37 three-point shots (16.2 percent).

Wilbekin

Wilbekin was named Most Valuable Player.

In three games, he averaged 13.1 points. He also had 10 steals.

Some of Wilbekin's contributions can be subtle. Early in the game, he timed a pass that Michael Frazier caught in stride coming off a screen and immediately went up for a jumper.

Etc.

■ Aaron Harrison, who made seven of 10 shots against Georgia on Saturday, made six of 17. That made him 11-for-41 in three games against Florida this season.

■ Florida led Mississippi by 12 at halftime in last year's SEC Tournament finals.

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