NASHVILLE, Tenn. ? You can forget the fact Kentucky has struggled this season.
When the Wildcats play in the SEC Tournament, they belong in that clich?ith death, and taxes.
Kentucky, seeded third in the East, rallied from an 11-point deficit with 6:19 to play to stun No. 2 West seed Alabama 68-61 in an afternoon quarterfinal Friday at Gaylord Entertainment Center. UK (21-11) advances to play South Carolina, an upset winner over Tennessee.
It appeared the Tide had washed out any hopes for the Wildcats when Ronald Steele buried a 3-pointer to put Alabama ahead 58-47. The basket capped a 10-2 run and gave Mark Gottfried's team its largest lead.
To that point Alabama looked comfortable and in control. Freshman swingman Alonzo Gee, who only recently had become a factor for the Tide, had riddled UK for 18 points Jermareo Davidson had also done plenty of damage inside with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Little did anyone know it was all over for the Crimson and White. The 'Cats held them to three points the rest of the way while finishing the game on a 21-3 run.
"I think Kentucky's depth, you know, probably wore us down a little bit," Gottfried said. "I sensed we got a little tired. They have a lot more bodies to play. I think they were a little fresher than we were."
The run started with a Rajon Rondo tip-in off Patrick Sparks' missed 3-pointer. Bobby Perry scored nine of UK's next 14 points, the final two with 1:15 to play on a layup down the middle the put Kentucky up for good, 63-61.
After shooting just 27 percent in the first half, Kentucky shot 53.3 percent in the final 20 minutes. Meanwhile, UK limited Alabama to 36.7 percent for the game.
"The game plan was try to wear them down, fatigue them," Wildcats coach Tubby Smith said. "They made some big-time 3s, we went zone, but during that span, I thought, you know, the pressure that we were placing on them, it's sort of cumulative. Not something that happens during the stretch. Later, suddenly, you're not jumping as high, the shots are shorter."
Joe Crawford led Kentucky with 14 points. Perry and Sparks each had 13.
Kentucky has played as though winning this tournament is its God-given right. The Wildcats have won 10 of the past 14, but they've never had to do it as a No. 3 seed that played on the first day since the league expanded to 12 teams.
Player of the game: Perry. Talk about your unlikely heroes. Perry hadn't tallied in double figures since Feb. 18, and even that was only his fourth such game all season. But he finished with 13 and a team-high nine rebounds to go with two blocked shots. He was huge down the stretch with a 3-pointer and the go-ahead layup during the final run. "Bobby, he's a hard matchup," Smith said. "He's got quickness. He's kind of an in-between player at 6-7. He's not that strong. He's not that fast. He's not that athletic. He's a hard worker. He's a guy that you can count on, giving you the same effort every time he goes on the court."
Deserved better: Gee. The freshman from Florida has been a revelation of late, piling up double figures in scoring in four consecutive contests and five of his past six. He was the only Tide player to shoot better than 50 percent from the floor (7-of-12, 3-of-4 on 3-pointers). He also added eight rebounds.
Key stretch: The final three minutes. In a tightly played, fun-to-watch game, Kentucky made the plays down the stretch.
They said it: "If you get to play in the NCAA Tournament, everything is wiped away. It's 0-0. I've studied that tournament. I've been such a fan of college basketball since I was growing up. I can take you through teams like Villanova and where they finished in their league, UCLA with Larry Brown, where they finished fifth. Lute Olson's team finished fifth in the Pac 10, won a national championship. Everybody is 0-0. It's time to play some basketball. Hopefully, we get that opportunity." ? Gottfried
Up next: vs. South Carolina, SEC semifinals. "They've been a team that's pretty tough to match up with because they've got some quickness in their front court in (Renaldo) Balkman and (Tarence) Kinsey who are very athletic, and Tre Kelley can do some things. ? Coach Odom is an outstanding coach. He's going to have his team ready." ? UK's Smith