ATLANTA — James Young scored 21 points, Willie Cauley-Stein led a dominating performance in the middle with six blocks and Kentucky pulled away to beat LSU 85-67 in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament Friday.
The Wildcats (23-9) closed the regular season with three losses in their last four games, prompting coach John Calipari to switch things up at practice and beseech his team to find "its mojo." His talented group of freshmen heeded the call.
Kentucky took control with a 23-3 run in the first half, withstood a rally by the LSU (19-13) and pulled away with the sort of dominating performance expected from a team that some thought could win every game.
Cauley-Stein teamed with fellow 7-footer Dakari Johnson to give the Wildcats a presence in the lane the Tigers simply could not match. Johnson had 9 points, 11 rebounds and three of Kentucky's 11 blocks.
Johnny O'Bryant III led LSU with 18 points, while Andre Stringer added 14. But the Tigers hurt themselves by making just 12 of 24 free throws.
Kentucky's Julius Randle had 17 points and 16 rebounds, Aaron Harrison had 14 points and Andrew Harrison contributed 11 points and eight assists.
Off the opening tip, LSU's Shavon Coleman quickly silenced the Kentucky-dominated crowd at the Georgia Dome by knocking down two straight 3-pointers, which forced Calipari to call a timeout just 61 seconds into the game.
The Tigers built their biggest lead when Stringer's layup made it 22-14 approaching the midway point of the first half.
The Wildcats took control from there and ripped off 12 straight points to start the run that put Kentucky in control.
Cauley-Stein sparked the outburst with three blocks, each one drawing an even louder reaction from the crowd. Young scored seven points, including a thunderous dunk and a long 3-pointer, and added a couple of rebounds and an assist.
LSU made just 1 of 11 shots during the decisive run and turned the ball over five times to compound its offensive woes.
Kentucky led 42-32 at halftime. But down by 16 points in the second half, LSU got back in the game with a 14-3 run of its own.
The Wildcats were soon rolling again and pulled away from the Tigers to set up a matchup against either Georgia or Mississippi in the semifinals Saturday.