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Wildcats move into SEC final

ATLANTA (AP) -- Chuck Hayes threw his arms in the air and let out
a scream. Tubby Smith pumped his fist furiously as he ran along the
sideline. Kentucky usually takes the Southeastern Conference
tournament in stride, but the Wildcats couldn't contain themselves.

This one was worth celebrating.

Hayes spun into the lane to hit the winning shot with 7.9
seconds left in overtime Saturday, giving the No. 4 Wildcats a
79-78 victory over LSU and a chance to play for another SEC
tournament championship.

"Certainly, it gives us the belief that we can win close
games," said Smith, the Wildcats' coach.

Brandon Bass hit a miraculous shot for the Tigers as the buzzer
sounded in regulation, forcing overtime with the score tied at 70.
LSU built a five-point lead in the extra period, but it wasn't
enough to hold off the Wildcats and the weight of history.

Kentucky (25-4) will be going for its third straight SEC
tournament title, its 11th in 14 years and 26th overall. LSU (20-9)
has won it only once, way back in 1980.

After its last two championships, the Wildcats didn't even
bother cutting down the nets. They may call for the scissors if
they beat Florida on Sunday -- especially with the way they survived
the semifinals.

Patrick Sparks hit a crucial 3-pointer from the corner to spark
the Kentucky comeback, which was helped along when LSU's Glen Davis
missed a pair of free throws with 39 seconds left.

Kelenna Azubuike, who led the Wildcats with 19 points, drew a
foul and made the first of two free throws to pull Kentucky to
78-77. When the second attempt clanked off the rim, Hayes swooped
in to grab the offensive rebound.

Kentucky called timeout and set up a play for its senior leader,
even though he had made only 2 of 9 shots. The Wildcats worked the
ball inside to Hayes, who spun around the 300-pound Davis and
banked in the shot with his left hand.

"The whole game I had been pausing to see what the defense was
going to do," Hayes said. "But that time, I just told myself to
make a quick move, get it up on the rim and give it a chance to go
in."

Sparks set a crucial pick that gave Hayes room to operate around
the massive Davis.

"I should have felt the screen," the LSU freshman said. "I
should have felt the pick and gotten over there."

The Tigers still had time to pull off the win, but Tack Minor
drove wildly into the lane and lost the ball while trying to put up
the shot. Appropriately, Hayes grabbed it as the horn sounded to
send the Wildcats to the title game against Florida.

"Chuck is the key and the glue," Smith said.

Again Sunday, the Wildcats will have history on their side. The
Gators have never won the SEC tournament, losing four times in the
final -- including 89-73 to Kentucky last year.

Then again, Florida did beat Kentucky in the regular-season
finale last weekend, pulling off a 53-52 upset in Gainesville.

Bass gave LSU a chance to knock off the Wildcats. After Kentucky
missed three of four free throws in the final minute of regulation,
the SEC player of the year took off down the court, pulled up just
inside the 3-point line and lofted a jumper over Hayes'
outstretched arm.

The ball hit the back of the rim, then the backboard, then the
rim two more times before dropping through as the buzzer sounded.
Bass was mobbed by his teammates and actually ripped off his jersey
to celebrate.

Of course, he had to put it back on for overtime.

"I thought the game was over," Bass said. "I really thought
we were down one. It was a big shot, but it would have been bigger
if we had won the game."

LSU gave a much better effort than its 31-point loss at Kentucky
in January, even though this one had the feel of another road game.
Nearly everyone in the Georgia Dome crowd of 24,214 was wearing
blue.

"This Kentucky following is amazing," said coach John Brady of
the Tigers, who are still assured of an NCAA bid. "For our team to
come in here and play well in this environment has to help our team
out, even in losing."

Antonio Hudson added, "The attitude we played with there was
totally different from where it is now. When we got behind in Rupp
Arena, we kind of gave up. Tonight, we continued fighting and never
gave up."

In overtime, LSU got a couple of fast-break layups for a 76-71
lead with 2… minutes left. That sent the Wildcats into desperation
mode, and their sense of urgency paid off on the next possession.

Kentucky missed three shots underneath but fought for the
offensive rebound each time. Finally, Bass fouled Hayes, who made
both free throws.

Davis hit a couple of foul shots to restore the five-point
cushion, but Sparks made his fifth 3-pointer of the game from deep
in the corner. He finished with 17 points.

"He's a money player," Smith said. "He's a kid who likes to
take the big shot."

Hudson made four 3s and led LSU with 21 points. Bass had 16
points and 13 rebounds.

Kentucky freshman Joe Crawford, who briefly quit the team in
January because he was upset about a lack of playing time,
contributed a career-high 14 points. Most of them came early in the
second half when the Wildcats' bench kept them in the game.