NEW ORLEANS — For much of the first 25 minutes Saturday, No. 1 Kentucky plodded along, seemingly content to play a close game against Florida.
And then the Wildcats and their bevy of NBA talent turned up their game, using a 13-0 run midway through the second half to turn a five-point deficit and turn it into a lead they would never lose.
Kentucky beat Florida for the third time this season, moving into the SEC tournament finals with a fast-paced and high-energy 74-71 win.
All five Kentucky starters scored in double figures, led by Doron Lamb’s 16 points. Anthony Davis added 15 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks.
The Gators (23-10) made the country’s No. 1 team sweat down the stretch, however.
Twice Florida cut the Wildcats’ lead to two.
First, with 1:55, Bradley Beal drilled a 3-pointer to make it 68-66.
Davis, a likely NBA lottery pick, missed a jumper on the other end for Kentucky (32-1) but Florida couldn’t take advantage as Beal missed a 3-pointer.
Again Kentucky missed a chance to extend its lead but a foul by Erik Murphy put Terrence Jones at the line.
The star Kentucky forward hit both, pushing the lead to 70-66.
But Murphy’s putback on a Kenny Boynton miss again cut Kentucky’s lead to two and again Florida fouled.
Marquis Teague sank both free throws and Kentucky’s lead jumped to 72-68..
But this time, Florida didn’t have an answer, Boynton’s 3-pointer hitting iron and bouncing long off of it and into the hands of Kentucky’s Doron Lamb, who sealed the game with two free throws.
Kentucky won despite shooting just 31 percent in the second half thanks to clutch free-throw shooting. The Wildcats went 14 of 18 from the line in the final 20 minutes.
The Wildcats outrebounded Florida 39-25, blocked four shots and came up with five steals in the win.
Florida, meanwhile, went 11 of 22 from 3-point range and shot 48.3 percent overall but was hurt by not getting to the free-throw line but once in the game.
The Gators’ Murphy led all scorers with 24 points on 9 of 12 shooting, including 4 of 4 from 3-point range and Beal added 20 points and eight rebounds.