In the midst of a free throw-a-thon, Wayne Turner managed to shine from outside the 3-point stripe.
The Kentucky point guard scored a career-high 24 points and keyed a decisive 15-0 run that led the 14th-ranked Wildcats over Mississippi 83-73 Friday night in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
The game was sloppy, disjointed and slowed by 65 fouls, neither team managing to get into much of a flow until Turner stepped up from behind the 3-point arc in the second half.
The Wildcats were leading only 47-46 when Turner connected on a 3-pointer, launching the spurt that buried the Rebels. He finished 4-of-5 from outside the arc after making only five treys throughout the regular season.
"When he's hitting 3s like that," coach Tubby Smith said, "it adds a whole new dimension to our game."
Something about the tournament brings out the best in Turner, the MVP of last year's event. His previous career scoring high was 20 against Georgia last season.
"I felt like I had to find a way to spark the team," Turner said. "It's all about confidence. Every one of those 3s, I felt like it was going in. I had to keep the defense honest."
The Wildcats (23-8) have won six of the last seven SEC tournaments, a streak interrupted only by their loss to Mississippi State in the 1996 final.
That streak faces a serious challenge Saturday in the semifinals. Kentucky meets No. 4 Auburn, the regular-season champion that rolled past Alabama 93-61 earlier Friday.
The Wildcats did hand Auburn one of its two losses during the regular-season, a 72-62 decision in Lexington.
"They're a very talented team," Smith said. "It's going to be a real dogfight. They're certainly deserving of their ranking and status. They've proved they're the best team in the confrence so far."
Kentucky, cheered on by a largely blue-clad crowd that made the Georgia Dome seem like Rupp Arena, improved its record to 11-0 in the cavernous stadium. The Wildcats have won 21 of their last 22 SEC tournament games, including seven in a row.
Ole Miss (19-12), hoping for a 20th victory to ensure an NCAA tournament bid, was led by Keith Carter with 23 points. But the Rebels couldn't overcome a miserable shooting performance from the field, going 22-of-61 (36 percent).
Still, coach Rod Barnes feels like his team deserves a spot in the 64-team field.
"I think we've got a great chance of going," he said, getting in a little campaigning two days before Selection Sunday. "We've got some quality wins and had a pretty consistent season. We only had one lull (losing four in a row near the end of the season), and I hope that won't damage a great team."
Kentucky made 29-of-46 at the line, actually shooting one more free throw than field goal attempt, while Ole Miss was 19-of-35.
"There were a lot of stoppages," Carter said. "It was hard to get into the flow, but obviously Kentucky didn't have trouble getting in the flow during a couple of those spurts. We've got to realize that we had our chances and didn't take advantage of it."
The game was tied 31-31 at the half and Ole Miss took its only lead when Marcus Hicks hits two free throws in the opening minute of the second period.
The Rebels managed to stay close despite shooting only 29 percent from the field in the opening half, many of their attempts never even reaching the rim. Kentucky had seven blocks in the opening 20 minutes, but negated their dominating inside presence by going 9-of-19 at the line and committing 11 turnovers.
After one of the missed free throws by his son Saul, no less Tubby Smith stomped the floor like a pouting child, the thud reverberating throughout the dome.
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