The Wildcats, a 78-63 winner over South Carolina, make the championship game for the 33rd time.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published March 14, 2004
ATLANTA - Erik Daniels and Gerald Fitch combined for 45 points Saturday afternoon and Kentucky shot 50 percent from the field in a 78-63 win over South Carolina in the semifinals of the SEC tournament at the Georgia Dome.
Kentucky returns to the SEC title game for the 33rd time; the Wildcats have a 25-7 record in the championship.
Kentucky (25-4) is on an eight-game winning streak, its longest of the season, and is hoping to lock up both title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
"We don't have any control over that, but I think we would have put ourselves in a pretty good position," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said.
Coming into the game South Carolina coach Dave Odom said if his team had any chance of upsetting Kentucky, the one thing it couldn't do was fall behind early.
Knowing and doing are different things.
South Carolina trailed 40-34 at halftime and fell behind by as many as 15 points midway through the second half. Still, the Gamecocks hung around until late in the game.
The Gamecocks (23-10) pulled to within seven with 6:47 left on a 3-pointer by Mike Boynton, but Kentucky answered with a 12-4 run to take a 73-58 lead.
"Toward the end of the second half, we pulled together and started making shots and some defensive plays," said Fitch, who came off the bench and scored 24. Daniels added 21 and Kelenna Azubuike added 14.
Tampa natives Tarence Kinsey and Renaldo Balkman scored seven and eight, respectively, for South Carolina. Josh Gonner led all Gamecocks with 17 and Carlos Powell added 12.
South Carolina hopes that with its two wins in the tournament, it improved its chances for a higher seed in the NCAAs.
"Playing in this tournament has made us a better team," Odom said.