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Kentucky enters SEC tournament with confidence

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 6, 2013 at 4:31 pm •  Published: March 6, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky came up a game short of repeating as Southeastern Conference regular-season champions.

But the seventh-ranked Wildcats are confident they can win the conference tournament.

Tennessee ended Kentucky's one-year reign as regular season champs, but the Wildcats believe they served notice that they are the tournament favorite with Sunday's victory over the Lady Volunteers. The win clinched second place and a first-round bye in the tournament that began Wednesday in Duluth, Ga. Kentucky (25-4, 13-3) faces the Missouri-Vanderbilt winner on Friday.

Kentucky's victory against Tennessee also marked a return to form as they used their depth, and mixed tough defense with balanced offense, to wear down the Lady Volunteers. Believing that game was more indicative of their ability, players are confident of winning the program's first tournament title since 1982.

"I think it was a game needed as a team because that helped our confidence," first team all-conference forward DeNesha Stallworth said. "Just knowing that if we play like that every game and as a team, it should be a great outcome on the scoreboard."

Kentucky's lone SEC title came in 1982 under coach Terry Hall, who guided the Wildcats to four tournament wins on their home floor including the final against Tennessee. They didn't reach the championship again until 2010, the first of back-to-back appearances ending with losses to the Lady Vols.

Last year's berth with the school's first-ever No. 1 seeding ended with a semifinal loss to LSU — which also derailed Kentucky's regular season title hopes with a victory on Feb. 24 in Baton Rouge. The Wildcats didn't play badly in that game but struggled to come from behind against a Tigers squad that shot 53 percent from the field.

Kentucky has recovered with a rout of Mississippi and a beating of Tennessee that boosted their morale on many levels. Besides forcing 31 turnovers for 33 points, the Wildcats dominated the inside and shot 9 of 26 (35 percent) from beyond the arc.

"Everybody had to feel good about what was going on Sunday," said Mitchell, who became Kentucky's winningest coach with the victory. "We've played some very good basketball this year. We were so disappointed with that loss in Baton Rouge and even the win against Ole Miss. We did some good things but I still didn't think we were back to our normal selves.

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