ATLANTA — It seemed almost inevitable that No. 1 seed Florida would meet No. 2 seed Kentucky in Sunday’s Southeastern Conference Tournament title game. The only question was what route the teams would take to get there.
The Gators (31-2, 18-0 SEC) used a blowout of No. 8 seed Missouri and a handling of No. 4 seed Tennessee after a two-round bye.
The Wildcats (24-9, 12-6 SEC) put together two high-flying wins over No. 7 seed Louisiana State and No. 3 seed Georgia.
Florida, the nation’s top team, overcame a seven-point halftime deficit to top the Volunteers 56-49 in the early game Saturday.
A costly technical foul on Tennessee forward Jeronne Maymon with the game tied and 4:30 to play gave Florida four free throws.
UT guard Jordan McRae hit a 3 two minutes later to tied the score at 49. The Vols wouldn’t score another point. They were held to 14 points total in the second half.
“We were really locked in on the defensive side,” Gator center Patric Young said. “I could just feel like an inner sense that they were going to have a difficult time scoring. Especially seeing Scottie, how he was guarding McRae and how fast our double teams were coming in the post.”
Young scored 16 points and pulled down eight rebounds. Conference player of the year Scottie Wilbekin added 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting.
“They do a good job moving the ball, keeping their spacing,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Obviously it starts with Wilbekin. In my opinion, I take him over any point guard in America outside of my own. He just does a great job of running this team, directing traffic. But he does it on both ends of the floor.”
McRae scored a team-high 15 points on 7-of-15 shooting for the Volunteers (21-12, 11-7 SEC) who likely will make the NCAA tournament after a successful weekend here.
“If there are 15 teams playing better than Tennessee right now, I got to see who they are,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “I mean Tennessee, they're not only playing, they're smashing people.”
Kentucky led from wire to wire in a 70-58 trouncing of Georgia (19-13, 12-6 SEC), another team that shifted NCAA bubble conversation in its favor after a Friday win over fellow bubble-dweller Ole Miss.
“I know we weren't good enough in November,” Bulldog coach Mark Fox said. “If you were to take a hard look at it, we might be good enough now.”
Andrew Harrison scored a game-high 22 points for the Wildcats and twin brother Aaron scored 12 more, plus dished nine assists and grabbed five rebounds.
Forward Julius Randle recorded his second double-double in as many days with 12 points and 11 boards.
Kentucky shot 56.3 percent from beyond the arc and the Harrison twins combined to go 6-for-9 from 3-point range.
“They shot the ball well today,” Fox said of the brothers. “They're big, they get in the lane, those kids have really improved. They played very well today.”
Kenny Gaines scored a team-high 13 points for Georgia and Charles Mann contributed 12 more.
Kentucky and Florida will tip off at 3:15 p.m. tomorrow for the conference championship.
Media members picked the Wildcats to win the SEC in the preseason poll. Florida has since gone on to become the first team ever to post a perfect record in conference play.
Both are shoe-ins for the NCAA tournament and the Gators, riding a 24-game winning streak, have a chance to lock up the top overall seed with a victory.