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No stunner, it's Kentucky

The Wildcats rout Mississippi 77-55 for their 23rd conference tournament title.

By JOANNE KORTH

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 12, 2001


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Parity was the buzzword among SEC coaches this week, but when it comes to the league tournament, one team knows no equal.

No. 15 Kentucky won the SEC tournament for the 23rd time with Sunday's 77-55 victory against No. 14 Mississippi before 20,225 at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.

The next closest team is Alabama with six titles in the SEC's 42 tournaments.

"It's gratifying to win the tournament," said UK coach Tubby Smith, whose team started the season 4-5. "This team has grown up. Early on it lacked focus, but we've gotten it back."

As it usually does in March.

The Wildcats have won eight of the past 10 SEC tournament titles, their past four title-game victories by a combined 98 points. They have won 26 of their past 28 tournament games and are 99-16 overall.

Junior Tayshaun Prince, SEC player of the year, led Kentucky with 26 points and 12 rebounds, his fourth double double in the past six games. His six three-pointers tied a title-game record set by former UK player Travis Ford in 1993.

Prince was named tournament MVP.

"It's something special," he said of the honor.

Mississippi (25-7) set a school record for victories this season, but heads into the NCAA Tournament on a discouraging note. The 22-point loss was the Rebels' worst of the season, topping a 75-55 loss to Florida on Feb. 21.

"A loss is a loss, whether you play Kentucky or the smallest school in the NCAA," said Mississippi's Rod Barnes, SEC coach of the year for guiding the Rebels to the Western Division title. "You have to put it behind you and move forward."

Mississippi got within 20-16 on Justin Reed's layup with 6:20 left. UK took control, closing the half with a 16-3 run for a 36-19 lead. After the Wildcats (22-9) scored the first two baskets of the second half, their lead never dipped below 20 points.

The Rebels, coming off an emotional 74-69 win against No. 5 Florida, shot a season-worst 29 percent from the floor (18 of 62) and 19 percent beyond the arc (4 of 21). They did not get a shot for the first four minutes of the second half.

"We had some good looks early, but we couldn't finish the play," Barnes said. "We let their defense build up momentum. They beat us to the punch."

Reserve guard Jason Harrison led the Rebels with 12 points. Kentucky got 19 from guard Keith Bogans, who was 8-of-11 from the floor.

Joining Prince on the all-tournament team were Bogans, Mississippi's Reed and Rahim Lockhart, and Arkansas Joe Johnson.

Mississippi is 0-12 against Kentucky in the SEC tournament.

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