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March 11, 2006

Gamecocks advance to SEC final

NASHVILLE, Tenn. South Carolina continued its improbable run through the SEC tournament on Saturday, stunning Kentucky 65-61 to reach the final for the just the second time in school history.

The Gamecocks got by on great execution down the stretch along with some clutch shooting and solid defense. It's a recipe that has worked for three consecutive games here as South Carolina (18-14) also has dispatched of Mississippi State and Tennessee.

"Right now we've developed some kind of toughness that we don't want to lose," said senior Tarence Kinsey, who scored 12 of his game-high 18 points in the second half.

Kinsey led the rally that turned the game. He hit a pair of 3-pointers during a 14-3 stretch that brought the Gamecocks back from a 50-45 deficit to a 59-53 lead with 5:45 to play. The padding was just enough - the Wildcats got no closer than three the rest of the way.

Junior Bryce Sheldon also hit a trey in the decisive run, with all three 3-pointers set up by point guard Tre Kelley.

"We have to give it up to Tre' because he found us," Sheldon said. "We also got some good screens."

And it seemed every time South Carolina got a good screen, somebody hit the big shot. Sheldon scored all 12 of his points from 3-point range. Kinsey and Kelley each had three 3-pointers. The Gamecocks shot 47.2 percent for the game while holding the Wildcats to 40 percent.

"Coach (Dave) Odom had his team ready," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "They executed well, they took care of the ball, they spread the floor and they hit a lot of clutch shots."

Randolph Morris kept Kentucky close. He scored 10 of his 12 points in the final 20 minutes. Joe Crawford led the 'Cats with 13 points, 12 on 3-pointers. UK also outrebounded South Carolina 38-26.

But in the end, the Gamecocks showed the poise and confidence of a basketball team that has begun to believe in itself.

Player of the game: Kelley. The South Carolina point guard had 13 points, five rebounds, four assists and only two turnovers while playing 39 minutes. He's the glue for the Gamecocks and is as responsible as anyone for the opportunity South Carolina has at an SEC Tournament championship.

Deserved better: Morris. Just when the sophomore center started to pay dividends inside in the second half (4-of-7 shooting) the Wildcats invested elsewhere. It proved costly.

Key stretch: The 14-3 second-half run. "They have some gifted shooters and we lost some of those guys in transition, and they got good screening and knocked down some shots. You could feel their energy and the momentum shift." UK's Smith

They said it: "When I think about it, the only time I've been upset with this team since we've been here was the start of the second half. You could tell that Kentucky had the bit in their mouth and we didn't. They were out to win the basketball game. Not that we weren't, but we didn't raise the decibels that you have to raise to play at this level against a team like that, and we took that timeout and I think they understood pretty well coming out of there how I felt. They went back out and took control defensively." Odom

Up next: South Carolina now faces Florida in the final with an NCAA automatic bid on the line. The Gamecocks defeated the Gators in both meetings this season.

More from the SEC Tournament:
Disappointing end for LSU's Glen Davis
SEC finalists know secrets to success
Saturday Photo Gallery
Friday Photo Gallery
Kentucky rallies to beat Alabama
Gamecocks take down Tennessee
Arkansas rolls over Georgia
Vanderbilt holds off Auburn
Kentucky pulls away from Ole Miss
Vandy's Nwankwo happy to be alive
South Carolina wins tourney opener
Thursday Photo Gallery
Wednesday Practice Notebook
Wednesday Practice Photo Gallery

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