ATLANTA (AP) - John Calipari would like another shot at the finish of Kentucky’s big comeback that fell one point short.
Given a do-over, he said he wouldn’t call a final timeout with 14 seconds remaining.
James Young slipped and lost the ball as Kentucky was unable to get off a final shot in its 61-60 loss to No. 1 Florida in the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game.
The Wildcats trailed by 16 points early in the second half before using a 14-0 run to add drama to the game’s finish.
“I’m so proud of my guys,” Calipari said. “They had every chance to let go of the rope.”
Shortly after the finish, Kentucky was given a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Midwest Regional and will play No. 9 seed Kansas State in St. Louis on Friday.
After Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith missed a free throw with 22 seconds remaining, Calipari called the timeout to set up the final play. He said he wishes he would have let his team keep playing.
“I don’t like calling timeouts there,” Calipari said. “If I had a chance to do it over again, I would not have called time out. The court was spaced. We could have gone and shot the ball and done exactly what I wanted to do without a timeout.”
Andrew Harrison passed to Young on the right wing, but Young lost his footing and control of the ball as he attempted to make a cut toward the basket. Time expired as Young, Harrison and Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin reached for the ball.
“I just tried to get to the basket and I slipped, I took too much of a wide step and I slipped,” Young said. “That’s on me.”
Kentucky (24-10) struggled to score most of the game against Florida’s constant defensive pressure. The Wildcats made only 18 of 51 shots (35.1 percent). Aaron Harrison scored 16 points while making only 6 of 17 shots.
Julius Randle couldn’t come close to extending his streak of six straight double-doubles. Randle had four points on 1-of-7 shooting and seven rebounds.
The Gators (32-2) extended their school-record winning streak to 26 games and were awarded the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Patric Young and Michael Frazier II each had 14 points to lead Florida. Wilbekin, named the tournament’s MVP, and Casey Prather had 11 each.
Andrew Harrison set career highs in assists in each of Kentucky’s first two tournament games, including nine in Saturday’s semifinal win over Georgia. He had 10 points but only two assists against the Gators.
“He played another great game,” Calipari said. “We didn’t make the baskets for him. He had all kind of attempts for assists. We just didn’t make the shots today.
“Again, for us to shoot 35 percent, folks, and be a second away from winning the conference championship is amazing. It means we really showed a lot of fight.”
Florida led 40-30 at halftime and scored the first six points of the second half for its biggest lead. But Kentucky used a 14-0 run to close within one point with just over 6 minutes remaining. It was a nail-biter the rest of the way, the Wildcats coming oh-so-close to beating the first team to go 18-0 in SEC play during the regular season.
First, Andrew Harrison drove down the middle of the lane and put up a running jumper with 33 seconds remaining, but the shot clanked off the rim. Finney-Smith grabbed the rebound for the Gators.
Kentucky was forced to foul three times to get Florida into the bonus. With 23 seconds left, Wilbekin missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but Finney-Smith came up with another huge rebound and was quickly fouled by the Wildcats. Finney-Smith missed the front end, too, giving Kentucky a chance to win it.
Kentucky couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity, but the Wildcats said the comeback proved a team filled with freshmen was ready to make an NCAA run.
“It’s definitely a big confidence-booster,” said Willie Cauley-Stein, who had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
“We really are a brand new team and I think that building off that for the NCAA tournament is going to be big for us.”
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