CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Southeast Regional is clearl sending its best team to the Final Four.
Top-seeded Kentucky was simply too deep, too versatile and on too much of a roll for Florida State yesterday at the Charlotte Coliseum, capturing the regional title with a 106-81 victory that left no doubt about superiority.
It was the 10th consecutive victory for the Wildcats, who have beaten their past six opponents by an average of nearly 31
Florida State (25-10) stayed close for a half, minimizing the effect of the Wildcats' press with length-of-the-court passes that led to some easy scores, but lacked the depth to sustain the challenge, particularly when Doug Edwards encountered first-half foul trouble.
Seminoles forward Rodney Dobard did a fine defensive job against Kentucky All-American Jamal Mashburn, who was held to 12 points on 5-for-13 shooting, with no three-pointers.
That was hardly enough. Proof of Kentucky's numerous weapons surfaced in the performance of 6-foot-9 freshman Jared Prickett, who capitalized on a mismatch against Bobby Sura to lead the Wildcats with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
The Wildcats' bench outscored its counterpart 36-12, and Kentucky more than doubled the Seminoles' rebounding total, 51-25.
The difference began showing early in the second half when Kentucky's Travis Ford overcame foul trouble and got going offensively.
"Ford just opened it up," said Seminoles coach Pat Kennedy. "He makes the team go. There are three ingredients to beating Kentucky: beating the press, controlling Mashburn and controlling Ford. We did well with the first two, not the third."
TC "Kentucky is very deep," said Florida State guard Sam Cassell, from Dunbar High. "Coach Pitino does a great job of keeping most of them fresh. We weathered the storm in the first half, but couldn't keep it up."
This game was not as lopsided as the 103-69 romp over Wake Forest in the regional semifinals, when the Wildcats made their first eight three-pointers and rolled to a 60-26 halftime cushion.
Cassell and Charlie Ward, the Seminoles' standout football quarterback, had success with baseball passes that beat the press, and a basket by Ward actually gave the Seminoles the lead, 28-27.
Gradually, though, Kentucky's combination of inside and outside strength caught up with Florida State. The first hint came at the end of the first half, when the Wildcats scored 10 of the final 13 points and eased ahead 54-46.
"I thought we had a good chance to be ahead at the half, but we just didn't complete some plays there," said Kennedy.
With Edwards trying to stay in the game and avoiding challenges on defense, and the Wildcats running in one effective substitute after another, the toll became high on the Seminoles.
"Our defense really stepped up to start the second half and it really started to roll for us," said Ford. "From there, things snow-balled."
Ford was all over the place, hitting three-pointers off screens and driving the lane and dishing to teammates for easy buckets. By the midpoint of the second half, Ford had sparked Kentucky to an 80-58 lead.
The Wildcats were denied a Final Four appearance last year when Duke's Christian Laettner hit a last-second shot to win an 104-103 overtime thriller in the East Regional final in Philadelphia.
"We have never talked once about revenge or anything like it," said Pitino. "I believe that is the weakest motivational tool there is.
"The first year off probation we were very happy to go to the 'Elite Eight.' Now we are one of the lucky ones going to the Final Four. It is the dream of every player and coach. I'm very happy for everybody."
At Charlotte (N.C.) Coliseum
* Kentucky 106, Fla. State 81
At St. Louis Arena
* Kansas 83, Indiana 77
At The Meadowlands
East Rutherford, N.J.
* Cincinnati (27-4) vs. N. Carolina (31-4), 1:30 p.m., chs. 11, 9
At The Kingdome, Seattle
* Temple (20-12) vs. Michigan (29-4), 3:45 p.m., chs. 11, 9