NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Like two previous victories over Florida this season earned with stronger finishes, top-ranked Kentucky took heart in having more energy after halftime than the pesky Gators.
Now the Wildcats can focus on a stronger start to their next Southeastern Conference tournament game.
Aaron Harrison and Karl-Anthony Towns each scored 13 points and Kentucky shut down Florida in the second half to pull away for a 64-49 victory in Friday’s SEC tournament quarterfinals.
Kentucky advanced to face No. 13 seed Auburn, which upset No. 4 seed LSU 73-70 in overtime Friday afternoon.
Friday’s Kentucky-Florida game followed the same hard-fought pattern as the two previous matchups, with the Gators initially taking charge before Kentucky seized control in the second half with its size and depth.
“The reality of it is, we didn’t play with as much energy as Florida played with to start the game,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “I told them at halftime, if that’s what we have in store, like that’s how we’re going to do this, we’re going to have some problems.
“I thought in the later part of the game, we found that combination of Andrew (Harrison), Aaron, Tyler (Ulis), Trey (Lyles) or Dakari (Johnson). And see, that’s the advantage we have.”
Those advantages helped Kentucky (32-0) outrebound Florida 39-33, including a 16-11 edge offensively that created extra chances and earned frequent trips to the free-throw line. Towns also had 12 boards.
Kentucky hit 19 of 23 from the line, while Florida (16-17) was 3 of 5.
“They outrebounded us a little bit, but the difference in the game was the free-throw line,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “Twenty-three attempts to our five was a huge factor in the game. ... If you take away the free-throw line, it’s pretty consistent all the way through.”
Willie Cauley-Stein added nine points for the Wildcats, who tied the longest win streak in school history.
No. 22 Arkansas 80, Tennessee 72: Rashad Madden made four late free throws that helped Arkansas overcome blowing a big lead in an 80-72 victory over Tennessee.
The second-seeded Razorbacks (25-7) led 55-35 early in the second half before missing 12 of their final 15 shots, a drought that allowed the Volunteers to rally to 69-65 with 3½ minutes left.
Georgia 74, South Carolina 62: Yante Maten scored six straight points down the stretch putting Georgia ahead to stay, and the third-seeded Bulldogs beat South Carolina.
The last team to play, the Bulldogs (21-10) joined No. 21 Arkansas in avoiding the upset bug. Not that it was easy against the Gamecocks, who won both regular-season games and erased a 12-point Georgia lead in the second half.