ATLANTA -- Top-ranked Florida capped a perfect run through the Southeastern Conference when Kentucky failed to get off a shot on its final possession, allowing the Gators to escape with a 61-60 victory in the league championship game Sunday. Florida (32-2) built a 16-point lead early in the second half, but Kentucky nearly pulled off an improbable comeback to hand the Gators their first loss since early December. Two missed free throws gave the Wildcats (24-10) a final possession, but James Young slipped trying to drive into the lane. The ball squirted loose, and the horn sounded while Floridas Scottie Wilbekin and Kentuckys Andrew Harrison dived for it. A giddy Wilbekin popped up and sprinted toward the Gators bench in celebration. Harrison rolled over with the ball, then put his hands over his face in anguish. The Gators extended their school-record winning streak to 26 games and awaited a sure No. 1 seed when the NCAA pairings were announced Sunday evening. Patric Young and Michael Frazier II led Florida with 14 points apiece, while Wilbekin and Casey Prather had 11 each. Kentucky, also headed for the NCAAs, was paced by Aaron Harrison with 16 points. Young added 13, while Willie Cauley-Stein had 10 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks. Florida led 40-30 at halftime and scored the first six points of the second half for its biggest lead. But Kentucky used a 14-0 run to close within one point with just over 6 minutes remaining. It was a nail-biter the rest of the way, the Wildcats coming oh-so-close to beating the first team to go 18-0 in SEC play during the regular season. First, Andrew Harrison drove down the middle of the lane and put up a running jumper with 33 seconds remaining, but the shot clanked off the rim. Dorian Finney-Smith grabbed the rebound for the Gators. Kentucky was forced to foul three times to get Florida into the bonus. With 23 seconds left, Wilbekin missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but Finney-Smith came up with another huge rebound and was quickly fouled by the Wildcats. Finney-Smith missed the front end, too, giving Kentucky a chance to win it. Coming out of a timeout, the Wildcats didnt even get off a shot. Andrew Harrison dribbled the clock down at the top of the key, then dished off to Young on the right wing. He tried to cut into the lane, bumped a Florida player and tumbled to the court. That was it. Florida ran off the court with its first conference tournament title since 2007, when the Gators went on to capture the second of consecutive national titles. They had lost in the tournament final two of the last three years. Kentucky was denied its 28th tournament championship. The Wildcats have more titles than all the other SEC schools combined. Domantas Sabonis Pacers Jersey
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. Yet now its time for the most important pick of them all; the Grey Cup. The thought of going 5-0 with the correct choice is quite intoxicating, I dont think I have ever gone perfect in my CFL futuristic playoff speculations and would take great pride in guessing - I mean analyzing - correctly.DENVER - Instead of revving their high-octane offence like they did a year ago, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos pumped the brakes heading into these playoffs.Theyre no longer the air-it-out team that piled up 606 points last season. Now, theyre built as much on a dominant, star-studded defence and good ground game as they are on Mannings mind and passing prowess.While taking on a new identity, the Broncos still managed to tie for the leagues best record for the third consecutive season under Manning. And their 30.1-point scoring average trailed only Green Bays 30.4.Still, Mannings stretch run — three touchdowns, six interceptions in December — is cause for concern among many an uneasy Broncos fan.C.J. Anderson, the first undrafted running back to score seven touchdowns in a month since Priest Holmes a decade ago, laughs at the notion.He offered this observation as the Broncos (12-4) got some much-needed R&R with a first-round bye:Ill just ask the fans this: Do you want Peyton to throw 70 million touchdowns and break 80 million records or do you all want a parade downtown?Andersons emergence since midseason has given the Broncos the kind of balance they had back in the late 1990s when John Elway had Terrell Davis to take share the load and help hoist two championship trophies.Anderson began the season buried on the depth chart, and only got his chance because of injuries to Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman. He quickly proved as adept at picking up the blitz as the first down, a prerequisite to joining Manning in the Broncos backfield.He finished with 1,173 yards from scrimmage and 10 TDs despite not starting until Week 11.C.J.s picked up this offence quickly, Manning said. He studied during the time that he wasnt playing, which has paid off for him.And the Broncos.I feel good that our run game has developed, that weve got a couple guys we really trust back there, and the fact that we are a little more balanced, said offensive co-ordinator Adam Gase. To have that effective balance going into (the playoffs) is going to be key for us.Even with the Broncos downshifting their offence, Demaryius Thomas posted a club-record 1,619 yards receiving. He became the seventh wide receiver in NFL history to post 10 100-yard games in a season.Emmanuel Sanders set career highs with 101 catches for 1,404 yards and nine touchdowns after four seasons in Pittsburgh where he never came close to those kinds of numbers.Sanders, who famously called Denver widee receiver heaven when he arrived as part of Elways splashy free agency class last spring, said this was the kind of year he envisioned.ddddddddddddI remember last year I was sitting around getting ready to be a free agent, and I said that I feel like me and Antonio Brown have the same type of game. I just need somebody to give me an opportunity, Sanders said. What I meant was the yards hes putting up, the balls that hes catching, I can do those things.A year ago, the Broncos suffered through an injury epidemic. And four players who had to watch the Super Bowl from the sideline have led Denvers defensive resurgence: pass rusher Von Miller (14 sacks), cornerback Chris Harris Jr. (zero touchdowns), safety Rahim Moore and lineman Derek Wolfe.They combined with newcomers T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware to post the leagues third-rated defence that was second against the run.But the fulcrum of co-ordinator Jack Del Rios unit was a major surprise: linebacker Brandon Marshall, who led the team with 110 tackles despite missing the last two games with a sprained foot.Marshall, cut several times by the Jaguars before ending up as a practice squad player in Denver last year, is both a tale of perseverance and overnight success. He couldnt even carve out a job for himself on one of the worst teams in the NFL and now hes an every-down linebacker and arguably the defensive MVP on one of the leagues best teams.Hes had a Pro Bowl kind of year, Del Rio said.Marshall wasnt among the Broncos league-high nine Pro Bowl selections, however.Another snub was nose tackle Terrance Knighton, who has guaranteed a return trip to the Super Bowl even if that means having to beat the Patriots on the road for the first time since 2006.Teams that win right now and end up winning Super Bowls are teams that can play good defence and have offences that can run the ball, Knighton reasoned. Right now, were fulfilling that blueprint.Given that, youd think Knighton had a little voice telling him last years joyride would end in bitter disappointment, as it did.No, no, because we were on the same high horse that everybody else was on. We didnt feel like our offence could be stopped, Knighton said, and we felt like as a defence we only had to do enough to win.This time theres no riding Supermans cape.No, it didnt work, said Knighton, whos confident the refurbished Broncos can get it done this way.___AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
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