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Kentucky Gets an Easy Victory

March 15, 2004|From Associated Press

Nothing to get excited about. Just another Southeastern Conference championship.

For Kentucky, it's downright routine.

The eighth-ranked Wildcats cruised to their 25th SEC tournament title, and 10th in 13 years, with an 89-73 rout of Florida on Sunday at Atlanta, earning the top seeding in the NCAA tournament.

And, really, the NCAAs are all that matters to a program with Kentucky's pedigree.

"This isn't the ultimate," said Gerald Fitch, who didn't appear to be all that excited about being selected tournament MVP. "Being Kentucky, the ultimate is winning the national championship.

"This is just another step toward our goal. We know the big business is coming up next week."

Kentucky (26-4) dismantled the Gators (20-10) for the second time in a week, following up a 20-point win at Rupp Arena to close the regular season.

The Georgia Dome looked as though it was in Lexington; nearly everyone in the crowd of more than 22,024 was a member of the Bluegrass Nation.

"Our fans go wherever we go," Kentucky's Chuck Hayes said. "You kind of feel sorry for the other teams, because all you see is a sea of blue."

The Wildcats stretched their winning streak to nine games, earning the top overall seeding from the NCAA selection committee.

"I think we've made a pretty good case for ourselves," Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith said.

From the opening tip -- Cliff Hawkins got the ball and fired ahead to Fitch, who swished a three-pointer from the corner -- it was all Kentucky.

With the game less than four minutes old, the Wildcats grabbed their first double-digit lead at 14-4.

They were up by as many as 15 points in the first half before settling for a 49-37 halftime lead. Florida got that close only because Matt Walsh made a three-pointer at the buzzer.

No. 10 Wisconsin 70, No. 12 Illinois 53 -- Devin Harris scored 29 points and the Badgers held Illinois to 32.7% shooting at Indianapolis to win their first Big Ten tournament title.

Harris was 10 for 16 from the field and scored Wisconsin's first 11 points of the second half to help end Illinois' 12-game winning streak.

Harris, the junior who was named the tournament's most outstanding player, punctuated the win with an alley-oop dunk.

Both teams were shoo-ins for the NCAA tournament and were more interested in a higher seeding than the automatic bid that goes to the tournament winner.

Mike Wilkinson added 11 points for Wisconsin (24-6), which led by as many as 21 points in the second half.

Dee Brown was Illinois' (24-6) only effective offensive player. He scored 15 points on six-for-12 shooting. His teammates were 10 for 37 from the field (27%).

No. 7 Oklahoma State 65, No. 11 Texas 49 -- The Cowboys continued to use their combination of tenacious defense and athleticism to beat Texas at Dallas and win their first Big 12 tournament title.

Tony Allen scored 21 points for Oklahoma State (27-3) and led a defense that kept the Longhorns without a field goal for nearly 14 of the final 15 minutes, turning a three-point game into a rout.

Allen circled the court, jumping and punching the air, when time expired.

John Lucas III dived near the free-throw line and practically the entire team piled on in celebration of its first postseason tournament crown since winning the Big 8 in 1995.

The Longhorns (23-7) won't be going into the NCAA tournament on a roll. A Final Four team last season, Texas has lost three of its last five, albeit twice to Oklahoma State (27-3), and was down by 12 and 11 in the victories. It also scored fewer than 50 points twice in that span.

Texas was down 16 points in the opening minutes this time but chipped away to get within 42-39 with 14:48 left on a three-point play by Jason Klotz. Then the drought began.

Lehigh 59, American 57 -- Jose Olivero made a leaning jumper with 3.9 seconds remaining and Lehigh earned an NCAA tournament bid by winning the Patriot League title game at Bethlehem, Pa.

Tournament MVP Austen Rowland had 14 points and Jason Mgebroff added 13 for the Mountain Hawks (20-10), who won the Patriot tournament for the first time and last went to the NCAA tournament in 1988.

Andres Rodriguez had 16 points for the Eagles (18-13), who lost in the championship game for the third consecutive year.

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