ATLANTA — Even facing its biggest deficit since November, No. 1 Florida never panicked.
The Gators know their defense will never let them down.
Swarming relentlessly in the second half, Florida rallied from 10 points down and defeated Tennessee 56-49 in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament Saturday.
Patric Young scored 16 points and Scottie Wilbekin added 14, but this victory had nothing to do with what happened at the offensive end. It was all about what Tennessee faced when it had the ball after halftime.
The Volunteers made only 5-of-20 shots with 11 turnovers, and things really got grim down the stretch as they were stifled time and time again — making just one of their last 11 attempts from the field, while turning it over five times.
Everywhere they turned, it seemed like a Florida player was waiting, ready to take a swipe at the ball.
“We didn’t really switch anything up,” Wilbekin said. “We just tried to go into an extra gear.”
Florida (31-2) extended its school-record winning streak to 25 in a row after being down 35-28 at halftime.
“This group has a resiliency and a competitiveness,” coach Billy Donovan said. “We have our faults. We’re not perfect. But I’ve never walked off the court saying, ‘Wow, these guys didn’t get after it, they didn’t compete.’”
Tennessee (21-12) had a chance to post its most impressive win of the season. Now, its postseason fate rests in the hands of the NCAA selection committee.
The Gators, improving to 20-0 against SEC opponents, advanced to face Kentucky in the championship game today. The second-seeded Wildcats defeated Georgia 70-58, but have lost twice to Florida this season.
“I’ve seen a lot of teams. I’ve watched a lot of teams from afar,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said of the Gators. “They’re one of the best defensive teams in the country.”
Jordan McRae led Tennessee with 15 points, while Jarnell Stokes had 13 points and seven rebounds.
The final minutes were marred by a number of questionable calls, including a technical on Tennessee’s Jeronne Maymon for disputing that he threw a shoulder. It was the fifth foul on Maymon, knocking him out of the game with more than 4 1-2 minutes remaining after he scored 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
Then with just over a minute left, there was a long break while the officials went to the replay to rule on a potential flagrant foul against Wilbekin, even though it wasn’t even clear if he touched a Tennessee player while swinging his arms high.
“I think my elbow nicked his chin a little bit,” Wilbekin said with a slight grin. “He did a good job of selling it.”
It didn’t matter at the end. The Gators defeated Tennessee for the third time this season, each one following the same plot line. The Vols held their own in the first half, only to get dominated by Florida in the second.
The cumulative second-half score in the three games was Florida 103, Tennessee 60 — including a 28-14 edge on Saturday.
Despite the loss, the Vols are confident of their NCAA chances based on one of the nation’s toughest schedules and an RPI in the low 40s.
“I feel like the statement was already made before coming into this game,” Stokes said.
In the first half, at least, Tennessee certainly looked worthy of a spot in the 68-team field. The Vols were the first team to lead Florida by double digits since the first of its two losses, at Wisconsin on Nov. 12.
Wilbekin cut the deficit to seven at halftime with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, but Florida still went to the locker room facing its second-biggest deficit of the season at the midway point. Not that the Gators were ruffled by being in that position — it was the eighth time they had trailed at the break, and they’ve now come back to win six in a row.
“I told the guys at halftime, ‘We’ve been in this situation before,’” Wilbekin said. “We know what it takes to win in the second half.”
Tennessee should know. The Vols stayed right with Florida before halftime in both regular-season meetings, only to get blown out 67-41 in Gainesville and fall 67-58 in Knoxville.
NO. 4 ARIZONA 71
LAS VEGAS — Kyle Anderson had 21 points and 15 rebounds, Jordan Adams hit a huge 3-pointer in the final minute, and the Bruins outlasted the Wildcats in a spirited Pac-12 championship game.
The Pac-12’s two best teams during the regular season, UCLA (26-8) and Arizona (30-4) put on a show in the tournament final, trading big plays and floor burns.
Offense ruled the first half and defense the second until Adams dropped in his contested 3-pointer to put the Bruins up 71-68 with 45 seconds left.
David Wear and Norman Powell combined to hit four free throws down the stretch, giving UCLA the Pac-12 title in its first year under coach Steve Alford.
NO. 5 LOUISVILLE 71
NO. 21 UCONN 61
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Montrezl Harrell had 22 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks, and the Cardinals beat the Huskies for the inaugural American Athletic Conference tournament title in the Cardinals’ lone season in the league.
The defending national champions clinched their 40th NCAA tournament berth.
The Cardinals (29-5) have won three straight league tournament titles after taking the last two in the Big East, and they added their 19th overall to go with their share of the regular-season title with Cincinnati. They will play next season in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Russ Smith, named the tournament’s most outstanding player, had 19 points and five steals for Louisville, and Chris Jones added 11 points.
UConn (26-8) came in looking for an eighth tournament title to go with seven from the Big East. It was barred from postseason play a year ago, but is a virtual lock to return to the NCAA tournament this year.
No. 6 VIRGINIA 51
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Anthony Gill hit two free throws with 8.5 seconds left to help Virginia hold off Pittsburgh in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
Gill was shooting 63 percent from the line for the Cavaliers (27-6) but calmly made both free throws after James Robinson’s hanging layup had brought the Panthers to within 49-48.
Pitt had a chance to tie with 4 seconds left, but Justin Anderson tipped Robinson’s 3-pointer to Gill with 0.5 seconds left.
Joe Harris scored 12 points to lead the Cavaliers, who shot 47 percent against the fifth-seeded Panthers (25-9) to earn their first trip to the final since 1994.
The Cavaliers earned their first outright regular-season title since 1981 and only their second No. 1 seed.
No. 7 DUKE 75
N.C. STATE 67
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Jabari Parker scored 20 points and Duke advanced to the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship.
Rasheed Sulaimon added 16 points for the third-seeded Blue Devils (26-7) while Rodney Hood had 14 points and keyed the defensive effort against ACC player of the year T.J. Warren.
Duke earned its 31st championship game appearance and first since 2011.
The Blue Devils will play No. 6 Virginia today. Duke’s 69-65 win in January stood as the Cavaliers’ lone conference loss until Maryland beat them last week.
Warren scored 21 points but was just 4 of 13 after halftime while facing a barrage of double teams.
The seventh-seeded Wolfpack (21-13), playing their third game in three days, shot just 36 percent in the second half — after hitting 67 percent in the opening half.
NO. 20 NEW MEXICO 64
NO. 8 SAN DIEGO STATE 58
LAS VEGAS — Cameron Bairstow scored 17 points to lead the Lobos over the Aztecs in the Mountain West Conference championship game, giving the Lobos the automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.
Trailing by one with a little more than one minute left in the game, Bairstow — selected the tournament MVP — scored five of the Lobos’ last eight points to help the Lobos win their third consecutive tournament title.
The No. 2 seed in the Mountain West tournament is now 6-0 all-time when playing the No. 1 seed.
It didn’t come easy against the conference’s No. 1 defense, as New Mexico (27-6) had its five-point halftime lead disappear when the Aztecs opened the second half on an 8-0 run, to take a 30-27 lead.
No. 8 MICHIGAN 72
No. 24 OHIO STATE 69
INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan blew a 12-point second-half lead, then finished the game on a 7-1 run to advance to the Big Ten tournament title game.
The league’s regular-season champs will face No. 22 Michigan State in today’s championship game.
Nik Stauskas had 18 points and Caris LeVert had 17 to lead the Wolverines (25-7), winners of seven straight. It will be Michigan’s first title game appearance since 1998, when it won its only tourney title, which was later vacated.
Ohio State (25-9) was led by LaQuinton Ross with 19 points and Shannon Scott with 18.
The Buckeyes rallied to take their lead at 61-60 with 7:57 to go and still led 68-65 with 4:12 to play.
But the Wolverines allowed just one free throw the rest of the way and stripped Aaron Craft of the ball on a potentially tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds.
No. 22 MICHIGAN STATE 83
No. 12 WISCONSIN 75
INDIANAPOLIS — Adreian Payne scored 18 points, Branden Dawson had 14 and Michigan State beat Wisconsin to reach the Big Ten tournament championship.
The third-seeded Spartans (25-8) won consecutive games for the first time since winning 11 straight in a stretch over December and January. They will face No. 8 Michigan in the final today.
The Spartans went on a 16-1 run in the first half and took a 37-16 lead when Gary Harris scored with 5:39 left before halftime.
Frank Kaminsky had 28 points and Sam Decker added 11 points and seven rebounds for the second-seeded Badgers (26-7).
NO. 14 CREIGHTON 58
NEW YORK — Bryce Cotton scored 23 points and Providence won its first Big East tournament title since 1994 with a great defensive effort against Doug McDermott and Creighton.
The fourth-seeded Friars (23-11) used a 2-3 zone to hold the second-seeded Bluejays (26-7) 24 points below their season average and to an 8-for-30 effort from behind the 3-point line.
Cotton, the senior guard who finished second to McDermott in the conference scoring but was also a unanimous first-team All-Big East selection, was the scoring star in the championship game and he was selected the tournament MVP.
McDermott, who came in leading the nation in scoring with 26.5 average, finished 10 for 19 from the field, including 5 of 12 from 3-point range, for 27 points.
No. 23 VCU 74
GEORGE WASHINGTON 55
NEW YORK — Treveon Graham scored 22 points and VCU pressed and pressured its way into another conference tournament championship game, beating George Washington in the Atlantic 10 semifinals.
The second-seeded Rams (26-7) will play for the A-10 title for the second year in a row, facing fourth-seeded St. Joseph’s on Sunday. Coach Shaka Smart has led the Rams to a conference tournament final in four of his five seasons, first in the Colonial Athletic Association and the past two in the A-10.
Briante Weber added 16 points for the Rams, who lost last year’s final to Saint Louis, and Mo Alie-Cox provided muscle and energy off the bench with eight points, seven rebounds and a block.
Isaiah Armwood led third-seeded George Washington (24-8) with 15 points.
VCU will likely have to move on without A-10 sixth man of the year Melvin Johnson, who injured his knee early in the first half.
Big East Conference
Providence 65, Creighton 56
America East Conference
Albany (NY) 69, Stony Brook 6
American Athletic Conference
Louisville 71, UConn 61\ 0
Atlantic 10 Conference
Saint Joseph’s 67, St. Bonaventure 48
VCU 74, George Washington 55
Atlantic Coast Conference
Duke 75, NC State 67
Virginia 51, Pittsburgh 48
Big Ten Conference
Michigan 72, Ohio St. 69
Michigan St. 83, Wisconsin 75
UCLA 75, Arizona 71
Tulsa 69, Louisiana Tech 60
Florida 56, Tennessee 49
Kentucky 70, Georgia 58
Texas Southern 78, Prairie View 73
Sun Belt Conference
Georgia St. 72, Arkansas St. 45
Louisiana-Lafayette 73, W. Kentucky 72
W. Michigan 98, Toledo 77
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
NC Central 71, Morgan St. 62
Mountain West Conference