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NCAA '09: SEC tournament

Shaping the season

It was a strange season in the SEC. The national perception is the league is down, though coaches and players say otherwise. Teams that got off to a good start faltered, while others made surprising runs at the end. There were record-setting performances and highlight-reel buzzer beaters. And, of course, the usual upset or two. And the league lost two coaches midseason — one fired, one who walked away under pressure. As the men's conference tournament tips off today, here's a look at 10 things that helped shape the 2008-09 SEC season.

1: Meeks, the man Jan. 13: Kentucky 90, Tennessee 72

Kentucky senior G Jodie Meeks scored 26 first-half points on his way to a school-record 54 to lead the visiting Wildcats to a victory. It was the biggest individual SEC performance since Chris Jackson's 55 points for LSU against Mississippi in 1989. Meeks was 14-for-14 from the free-throw line.

2: Triple the triples

Arkansas freshman Courtney Fortson, above left, Florida sophomore Nick Calathes, center, and Tennessee junior Tyler Smith all had triple doubles this season. Fortson had 20 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in a 98-79 win Dec. 10 over North Carolina Central. Calathes had 20 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists on Jan. 28 in an 83-57 win over Georgia. And Smith earned the first in Tennessee history with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in an 87-69 win Dec. 3 over UNC-Asheville.

3: Downey's buzzer beater

Jan. 31: South Carolina 78, Kentucky 77

Having gone scoreless until the final two minutes of the first half, junior G Devan Downey more than made up for it. With three seconds remaining in the game, Downey hit a turnaround jumper to give the visiting Gamecocks the win. It was his second buzzer beater this season. He also had one to help defeat Florida.

4: Midseason changes Jan. 27/Jan. 29

Within two days in one January week, the league lost two veteran coaches. Alabama's Mark Gottfried resigned Jan. 27, in the middle of his 11th season with the Tide. A former Alabama player, Gottfried had been under pressure for the team's performance (it was 12-7, 2-3 in the SEC at the time but had missed the NCAA Tournament the previous two years) and the departure of star player Ronald Steele. Then Jan. 29, one day after Florida defeated Georgia 83-57, Bulldogs coach Dennis Felton was fired. The Bulldogs were 9-11, 0-5 in league play at the time.

5: Tigers take control | Feb. 28: LSU 73, Kentucky 70

The Tigers were bad last season; they finished 13-18 and coach John Brady was fired midseason. So to even be competitive was a big deal. To vie for the SEC regular-season title? Go figure. Fittingly, the championship clincher ran through Lexington — the SEC basketball mecca. Senior F Tasmin Mitchell hit a 3-pointer with 9.8 seconds remaining to lead LSU to a victory over the Wildcats, locking up the title. Mitchell had 21 points in the game.

6: Meeks at the buzzer Feb. 10: Kentucky 68, Florida 65

Having trailed by six with just more than four minutes left, the host Wildcats had an improbable finish behind G Jodie Meeks — capped by an off-balance 3-point basket with 4.7 seconds left while he was being heavily defended by G Nick Calathes. Meeks scored 10 in the final 3:06. The win put the 'Cats back in the SEC East title hunt.

7: Vols resurrected March 5: Tennessee 86, South Carolina 70

For most of the season, Tennessee hung around in the third and fourth slot in the East. But as the season progressed, so did the Vols. When Tennessee and the Gamecocks met last week, everything was on the line. Tennessee rolled over the host Gamecocks to clinch a share of the East title and bolster its NCAA resume.

8: Dawg day afternoon Feb. 14: Georgia 88, Florida 86

When Georgia hosted rival Florida on Valentine's Day, the Bulldogs hadn't won a conference game and nobody could have expected them to. Nobody, apparently, except Georgia. The Bulldogs stunned the Gators for their first conference win of the season. Turns out, Florida wouldn't be the only league leader Georgia would take out. Senior G/F Terrance Woodbury scored 30 to lead the Bulldogs to a 90-85 upset victory March 4 at Kentucky — delivering a serious blow to the Wildcats' NCAA Tournament hopes.

9: Do-over, please? Jan. 21: South Carolina 70, Florida 69

Coaches preach the importance of making free throws all the time, and nobody learned the lesson harder than Florida. The visiting Gators overcame a five-point deficit to take a three-point lead with less than three minutes remaining. Florida sophomore F Chandler Parsons, left, missed a free throw with 3.3 seconds remaining, then Devan Downey found G Zam Fredrick all alone at the other end of the court. He scored on a layup, knocking off then-No. 24 UF.

10: Brock delivers | March 8: Alabama 70, Tennessee 67

Alabama ended the regular season with a thriller. With time running out, junior G Anthony Brock hit a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer, helping Alabama to an upset. To get to the game in Knoxville, Brock rode in a car (driven by his cousin) most of the night after attending his grandmother's funeral. The winning shot was his only basket in the second half.

Shaping the season 03/12/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 12, 2009 7:42am]

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