Aaron Harrison broke out of shooting slump with 22 points and Andrew Harrison set a career high in assists for the second straight game with nine in Kentucky’s methodical 70-58 win over Georgia on Saturday to advance to the SEC tournament championship game.
Kentucky will play No. 1 Florida in today’s championship, creating the attractive matchup of the tournament’s two top seeds. Florida beat Tennessee 56-49 in Saturday’s first semifinal.
Kentucky coach John Calipari said he’s not looking forward to a third game against Florida.
Florida’s undefeated regular-season run through the conference included a sweep of two games against Kentucky. Florida took an 84-65 home win over the Wildcats on March 8 to close the regular season.
“I’ve had enough of Florida,” Calipari said, adding “it’s almost an honor to play a team like that.”
The Wildcats improved their record of dominance in SEC semifinals to 38-2.
James Young had 14 points and Julius Randle had 12 points and 11 rebounds for Kentucky (24-9), which never trailed but led only 36-32 at halftime.
Kentucky’s big lead was 16 points at 68-52.
Andrew Harrison, who had 12 points, set his career high in assists again. He had 11 points and eight assists in Friday’s impressive 85-67 win over LSU.
“My teammates make me look good right now,” Harrison said. “I’m just finding them and they’re knocking down shots.”
Aaron Harrison had been in a shooting slump before finding his stroke in Atlanta. In his last four games before the tournament, he made only 11 of 43 shots. Against Georgia, he was 7-of-10 shots, including 4-of-7 on 3-pointers.
Aaron Harrison gave partial credit to his brother.
“I just knocked down some shots,” he said. “My brother got me some great looks and Julius got me some looks.”
Kenny Gaines had 13 points, all in the second half, and Charles Mann had 12 for Georgia (19-13), which now likely will wait for a NIT bid.
Georgia coach Mark Fox lobbied for NCAA tournament consideration after the game, noting Georgia tied Kentucky for second place in the conference at 12-6. Fox acknowledged his team’s poor start to the season could be too difficult to overcome.
“I realize the body of work argument may put us on the outside,” Fox said, adding he is proud Georgia was at least a contender for an NCAA bid. “Hopefully, we’ll be in the postseason somewhere.”
Calipari also lobbied for Georgia, saying the Bulldogs and Tennessee should be in the NCAA field and Arkansas “should be on the edge.”
Kentucky has enjoyed the SEC tournament in “Catlanta” and the Georgia Dome. The Wildcats have won six tournament championships in Atlanta.
Overall, Kentucky has 27 SEC tournament titles.
Kentucky led only 41-39, following a driving basket by Gaines for his first points. Young made a short jumper from the baseline, Dakari Johnson stole a pass from Georgia’s Brandon Morris, and Aaron Harrison sank a 3-pointer to push the Wildcats’ lead to 46-39.
Gaines answered with a 3-pointer, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Wildcats from claiming momentum. Young’s tip-in pushed Kentucky’s lead to 10 points at 53-43. Andrew Harrison’s 3-pointer gave the Wildcats their biggest lead at 61-48.
Harrison had 16 points in the first half but Georgia stayed close, trailing 36-32 at halftime on Marcus Thornton’s buzzer-beating layup. It was a rare strong inside move for the Bulldogs, whose attempts near the basket were often influenced by Kentucky’s bigger front-line players, including two 7-footers, Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein.
Kentucky forward Julius Randle, who grabbed nine rebounds in the opening 20 minutes, finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Georgia was playing in its first SEC semifinal since 2008, the year a tornado hit downtown Atlanta and forced the tournament to move from the Georgia Dome to Georgia Tech’s old Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The Bulldogs beat Kentucky in the quarterfinals before winning the tournament.