Kentucky loves playing in the Big Easy, and it shows in a 78-58 whipping of Auburn.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 16, 2003
NEW ORLEANS -- Just call it "Blue Orleans."
That's what nearly all of the 21,427 at the Louisiana Superdome were doing Saturday afternoon. It's the nickname Kentucky fans have coined for New Orleans as the Wildcats continue their dominance of the SEC.
On a weekend when top-ranked teams are falling like dominoes, Kentucky continues to reign. A 78-58 win over Auburn advanced the No. 2-ranked Wildcats into today's SEC tournament title game and extended their winning streak to 22. The Wildcats are 3-0 in New Orleans this season. Auburn (20-11) gave Kentucky (28-3) its best shot, but ultimately the Wildcats did what they do best: dominate.
Tied at the half, Kentucky opened the second half by out-scoring Auburn 20-5, with a 43-29 rebounding edge.
"I thought our team battled, but in the second half their rebounding was a major factor, and once the door is opened they don't let you back in," Auburn coach Cliff Ellis said. "Their 13 second-chance shots were big. In the second half, the boards got away from us."
Auburn held its own in the first half, leading by five with a little less than two minutes left. Tigers forward Marquis Daniels had 12 of his 16 points, but became a special project of Kentucky guard Keith Bogans after halftime.
"We weren't getting in their face in the first half and they were comfortable in their offense so I asked the coaches if I could guard (Daniels)," said Bogans, who scored 13 to move past Jamal Mashburn into fifth on Kentucky's all-time scoring list. "He was trying to take over so I wanted to guard him."
It worked, along with the Wildcats' depth, which allows them to run players in and out and "just wear people down in the second half," said forward Erik Daniels, who had 17 points and eight rebounds. Gerald Fitch added 13 points. Auburn's Brandon Robinson had a game-high 19 and had nine rebounds.
Kentucky plays Mississippi State in today's final, the first SEC tournament meeting between them since the 1996 final: an 84-73 MSU win.
Coach Tubby Smith said he has no doubt MSU could have a repeat of that championship upset.
"We just want to play as well as we can," Smith said. "I'm not going to go into the game expecting to lose, but I saw that game (first semifinal) and Mississippi State is a good team. They are capable of beating us."