NASHVILLE, TN-- As I sat in section 221 of the Bridgestone arena at 2:30 p.m., Auburn coach Bruce Pearl was in the process of pumping up the crowd filled with Kentucky fans. And as you might expect with his enthusiasm, his calls were answered by those in blue.
Before that, at 12:00 p.m. on the rainy Friday morning, those in that same color stood in the forefront of my retina, in my peripheral and if I'd turned around, the color that represents a nation -- not just a fan base -- would've be there as well. The fans of the bluegrass state that show up to the SEC Basketball tournament year after year in such remarkable fashion just wanted 32-0.
Oh my goodness. Kentucky basketball. pic.twitter.com/uSfzQXk3lS— Alec Lewis (@alec_lewis) March 13, 2015
As it turns out, those Kentucky fans' prayers were answered -- literally, like the person next to me was praying during possessions -- and ironically, they're set to face the same Auburn team they cheered for, the same Auburn team that made ESPN for a KT Harrell game-tying buzzer beater to force overtime and the same Auburn team coached by the enthusiastic Bruce Pearl.
Auburn is the cinderella every fan hopes for. They have a first year head coach in Pearl, a senior shooter in Harrell, and apparently a knack for coming back and winning big games. On the third day of a back-to-back-to-back, you'd think they'd be tired but no, Pearl said they fed off the adrenaline of the big game and it seemed that way.
The ebbs and flows of the game were so drastic but so slow, the fans were so monotone and then boom, Auburn was in familiar position, fighting for their lives in this tournament. An LSU fan near me had been screaming, "Bruce, get your guys in check," the whole game--and the louder he yelled, the closer Auburn got. He and his friend left in overtime with two minutes to go--livid and probably because Pearl had is guys in check leading them to a nail biter win, 73-70.
The aforementioned Kentucky, and the unanimous No. 1 team in college basketball, faced Bill Donovan's Florida Gators prior to that and with 13 points from both Aaron Harrison and Karl Anthony-Towns, with the majority of the 18,205 fans that showed up to Friday's morning session in blue and with coach John Calipari throwing up an "L" on his forehead post game, the Cats walked away with the 64-49 win.
Oh, and by the way, Bobby Portis and Arkansas took the floor Friday night. They faced off against the Butch Jones-infused Tennessee Volunteers -- the Vols' head football coach spoke to the team prior to the game -- who'd escaped the day prior from the hometown Vanderbilt Commodores.
Bobby Portis just dunked on the whole state of Tennessee. Sick.— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) March 13, 2015
Portis tallied the 20 points in 13 minutes played in the first half and finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds, while Michael Qualls and Alandise Harris added 20 points and 14 points, respectively, to knock of the optimistic Vols fans, 80-72. For the man next to me, the typical Tennessee fan dressed in an orange button-down shirt with a "T" embossed in his black vest, his clapping didn't prove to be enough and he stormed out as Georgia and South Carolina took the floor.
Mark Fox came out dressed to a tee in his slacks and red tie to match the Bulldogs' scarlet while Frank Martin preferred the more "coach not GQ" look. That, having nothing to do with the game, resembles how the game went.
Battling injuries, Georgia's rhythm on offense thanks to J.J. Frazier and Kenny Gaines was too much for Gamecocks as they won at the late hour, 74-62.
So, we've found our way to the semifinals in Nashville, the city that lately seems to breed a cinderella. Two years ago it was Marshall Henderson who knocked off a number of teams on his way the SEC title. Auburn seems to be that team this year, but they get Kentucky tomorrow and are an underdog by 23 points in Vegas. Will Auburn do the unthinkable, or will the Arkansas or Georgia winner get another crack at the undefeated Wildcats?