NASHVILLE — Alabama basketball coach Avery Johnson knew he'd have to give up something to Kentucky power foward Alex Poythress when the two teams met in a Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinal Friday night.
After all, Poythress averaged 19.5 points in his two regular-season contests against the Crimson Tide but just 10 points against everyone else on UK's schedule.
"We wanted to take away his inside game," Johnson said following Kentucky's 85-59 win, its third against Alabama this season. "We weren't counting on him hitting four out of five 3-pointers."
But that's just what the Clarksville, Tenn., native did in scoring 20 points and pulling down a team-high seven rebounds. No. 16-ranked Kentucky (24-8) will play in today's second semifinal at about 3:30 p.m. EST. LSU meets tourney top seed Texas A&M at 1 p.m., and ESPN will televise both games.
Poythress was far from the only Wildcat dialed in from a distance. Big Blue hit a blazing 13 of 22 3s (59.1 percent), which certainly helped its average margin of victory against the Tide this year swell to 22.3.
Though his own team shot a highly respectable 9-of-26 from behind the arc (34.6 percent), Johnson said of UK's starting guards Tyler Ulis (17 points, 5 assists) and Jamal Murray (23 points, 6 assists): "They just know how to play off each other. They can both pass and shoot. Definitely the best (backcourt) in the country in my opinion."
Bama, which hopes its 18-14 record will get it an NIT bid, was led in scoring by Arthur Edwards with 20 points and Retin Obasohan with 18.
After Johnson addressed the media, someone asked UK coach John Calipari how he would defend Kentucky if he was an opposing coach.
Replied Cal: "I think you would say, 'If they make a bunch of 3's, we've got problems.'"
Texas A&M 72,
Tied with the No. 1 seed with 2:24 Friday afternoon, the Florida Gators looked as if they just might keep their thin NCAA tournament hopes alive for at least one more day.
Then the No. 17 Aggies went on a 7-1 run over the next 1:22 to earn a tourney semifinal date with LSU and likely end the Gators' NCAA dreams by handing them their 14th defeat of the year against 19 wins. It was also the Gators' 13th loss in their last 14 games against ranked opponents.
"I'm not going to go there with what happens next," said first-year Florida coach Mike White. "Wherever we're sent (NCAA or NIT), we'll be excited to play, or we'll find the right guys who are excited to play."
Texas A&M has pretty much found the right guys all year in forging a 25-7 record. Four senior starters are joined by an outstanding freshman post player in Tyler Davis, who led the Aggies with 15 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
"He's a special freshman, for sure," A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. "His maturity on the floor is beyond a freshman. Just a pace that he plays with, the decision making."
Then there's guard Alex Caruso, an Aggies ball boy in his youth who scored eight points, handed out five assists and stole the ball three times. He turned a steal in the final two minutes into a layup and a four-point A&M cushion.
"A big-time steal," Kennedy said. "Defensively, you could tell he was really tuned in at the end."
Whether it's the end to the Gators' NCAA tourney dreams won't become known until Sunday, but at the close of his first season facing SEC opponents, Florida's White made a final plea for inclusion in March Madness.
"I just think there's so many teams in this league, if given a chance," he said, "would be really competitive in the NCAA tournament."
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.