The 16th-ranked LSU Tigers, the champions of the Southeastern Conference in the regular season, now know their opponent after Kentucky shut down Ole Miss in the second half to win , 71-58, Thursday afternoon in the first game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at the St. Pete Times Forum.
The Tigers and Wildcats will meet in Friday’s first quarterfinal game at Noon CDT.
Kentucky outscored Ole Miss, 35-20, in the second half to erase a 38-36 Ole Miss halftime advantage. Jodie Meeks led Kentucky with 25 points and Patrick Patterson had 15 points and 14 rebounds. The Wildcats shot 46.7 percent for the game and 14-of-26 in the second half (53.8 percent).
The tournament quarterfinal will be the rematch of the game in Lexington on Feb. 28 when LSU clinched the SEC regular season championship with a 73-70 victory. Tasmin Mitchell hit a three-pointer with 9.8 seconds remaining to give the Tigers the win. Marcus Thornton had 23 points, including 19 in the second half and 15 in the final 9:30 and the game-winning assist as LSU rallied from 10 points down.
“They've whipped us in our own gym, and we look forward to playing the conference champion tomorrow,” said Billy Gillespie after Thursday’s win. “We know it will be a very difficult match up, but hopefully we'll be equal to the challenge.
“Just like any game, no matter who you play, you have to be good offensively, good defensively. You have to limit your turnovers and rebound the basketball. And (LSU is) sound in all those areas. They're totally sound, totally experienced. We have to execute every part of the game. You know, we had a tough first half against them the first time. That's because they made us have a tough first half. That's what they do to people. I think both teams when they play at their best and we played our best, I think they'd both be considered grinding teams. Defensive oriented teams and how well you play on offense usually determines whether you win or lose. “
The Tigers watched the first half of the Kentucky win after a 90-minute practice at the University of Tampa. Then Coach Trent Johnson and his staff and players watched video in late afternoon in preparation for the game.
Of the tournament, LSU Coach and SEC Coach of the Year Trent Johnson said: “Everything is new. It’s going to benefit us just like it has all-year long. For the NCAA Tournament, you have to play, and continue to do the things you’ve done all year long and not get caught up in playing in the SEC Tournament. It’s still a game. It’s just about being consistent and doing the things we’ve done all year long.
“We’re going to continue to do what we’ve been doing all year long, trying to win the first game. I fully expect that there are going to be some guys like there have been all year long — Storm Warren’s contributions in Lexington, Ky., Quintin Thornton and what he’s done, Alex Farrer and what he did against a good Ole Miss team and Terry Martin. Our roles and everything are not going to change. We played 31 games. We’re 25-6. That’s behind us now, but to say we are going to do something different, no.”
LSU is expected to go with SEC Player of the Year Thornton with second-team All-SEC Garrett Temple and point Bo Spencer at the guards with All-Defensive team center Chris Johnson and All-SEC forward Tasmin Mitchell at the forward position.
LSU’s only SEC Tournament title came in 1980 and the last Tiger appearance in the finals was 1993. LSU has advanced past its first game of the tournament in seven of the last nine years. This is LSU’s first bye since 2006, the fifth time in the 2000s LSU has had a bye. LSU is 21-29 in the tournament since the renewal.