Matt Walsh cut down the net, put the nylon around his neck, and savored the significance of the moment.
Florida had finally won the Southeastern Conference tournament -- and beating Kentucky made it even more special.
Walsh scored 26 points, including consecutive 3-pointers that sparked a stunning 21-2 run, and the Gators routed No. 4 Kentucky, 70-53, yesterday in Atlanta for their first SEC tournament championship.
"We wanted to take down the champ," said Walsh, the tournament's MVP. "I can't imagine a better feeling than beating Kentucky for the championship."
Florida (23-7) had beaten the Wildcats a week earlier in the regular-season finale, and this one knocked them out of contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Gators also defied history, winning their first tournament title on their 40th try against the team that has defined success in this event. Kentucky (25-5) had won the last two tournaments, 10 of the past 13, and 25 in all -- more than every other school in the SEC combined.
Atlantic Coast -- Tournament MVP J.J. Redick scored 26 points, Shelden Williams had 16 points and 13 rebounds, and fifth-ranked Duke held off a late charge to squeeze past fifth-seeded Georgia Tech, 69-64, in the conference final in Washington. Duke has won 15 ACC tournaments, tying archrival North Carolina for most in league history. But while the Tar Heels haven't added to their ledger since 1998, the Blue Devils have won six of seven -- the lone exception being last year, when they fell in overtime to Maryland in the title game.
Duke (25-5) led by 4 points early in the second half before Redick hit a jumper, Williams scored on a dunk, Redick made a layup, and Daniel Ewing hit a 3-pointer to make it 50-37. It became 52-39 on a layup by Shavlik Randolph with 11:15 to go, but the Blue Devils didn't make another basket until Williams tipped in a missed foul shot just before the buzzer. Duke went 15 for 20 at the free throw line over the final nine minutes.
Jarrett Jack scored 19 points for the Yellow Jackets (19-11), who fell short in their bid to win the ACC championship for the first time since 1993.
Big Ten -- Top-ranked Illinois dominated defensively to build a big lead, then held on to beat No. 23 Wisconsin, 54-43, in Chicago in the tournament final for its school-record 32d win. In front of a loud orange-clad following on its favorite home-away-from-home court at the United Center, the
Alando Tucker, whose 3-point buzzer-beater in the semifinals carried the Badgers (22-8) over Iowa, managed just 9 points on 4-of-14 shooting but was instrumental in Wisconsin's comeback.
Mike Wilkinson, Wisconsin's No. 2 scorer, also struggled, scoring 8 points on 1-for-7 shooting as the Badgers made only 14 of 54 field goal attempts (26 percent).
Big 12 -- John Lucas scored 19 points, including a crucial free throw with 4.4 seconds left, and No. 10 Oklahoma State earned its second straight Big 12 tournament championship with a 72-68 victory over Texas Tech in Kansas City, Mo. Joey Graham, the tournament's most valuable player, added 16 points and 11 rebounds for the third-seeded Cowboys (24-6), who overcame 20 turnovers -- seven by Graham -- to win the last Big 12 tournament game in Kemper Arena.
Ronald Ross, who had 22 points and 10 rebounds for Texas Tech, airballed a 3-point attempt with time winding down and the fourth-seeded Red Raiders (20-10) trailing, 71-68. Lucas caught the ball under the basket, was fouled, and hit the second of his two free throw attempts to put the game out of reach.
Southland -- Ricky Woods scored 16 points to lead Southeastern Louisiana to its first NCAA Tournament berth with a 49-42 victory over
Southwestern Athletic -- Obie Trotter scored 24 points on 8-for-10 shooting from 3-point range to lead Alabama A&M (18-13) to its first NCAA Tournament bid with a 72-53 victory over Alabama State in the final in Birmingham, Ala.