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By KEITH TAYLOR
NASHVILLE, Tenn. Ã¢â‚¬â€ Darnell Dodson may have given Kentucky coach John Calipari another option off the bench as the Wildcats delve deeper into the postseason. Another tool comes in handy at tournament time.
Dodson scored eight points Ã¢â‚¬â€ all in a span of three minutes Ã¢â‚¬â€ that helped propel the second-ranked Wildcats to a 74-45 win over Tennessee in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena.
Unlike in its tourney opener, Kentucky appeared more comfortable in a building that had more shades of blue than orange in TennesseeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s home state.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Everybody was more relaxed getting the first game out of the way,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
Although known as a long-range specialist off the bench, Dodson wanted to make his presence known on both ends of the floor when called upon by Calipari.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I just wanted to bring some energy off the bench and give us another option out there on both sides defensively and offensively,Ã¢â‚¬Â Dodson said.
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what he did. When the opportunity arose, Dodson pulled the trigger and scored his three baskets in a flurry that buried the Volunteers.
DodsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s contributions came after Tennessee narrowed an 11-point deficit to 50-41 with eight minutes remaining. In a span of three minutes, Dodson connected on back-to-back 3-point range and threw down a dunk that gave Kentucky a 58-41 advantage with six minutes remaining. From that point on, it was all Kentucky.
Dodson said Kentucky wanted to make sure Tennessee didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t respond to the decisive spurt.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Everybody just wanted to basically put the game away at that point and time,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Everybody picked it up a notch.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Dodson hit a trey and scored three points in KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 73-67 win over Alabama in the quarterfinals, but his two 3-pointers and thundering slam on an assist from Darius Miller provided the Wildcats with a much-needed boost.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was like a bounce-back game for me,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“My teammates kept looking for me. They had confidence in me and I just had the confidence to make shots.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Tennessee defeated Kentucky in the last meeting between the two border rivals in Knoxville, adding more fuel to a rivalry that has intensified over the past couple of years. Dodson wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t surprised by the intensity level throughout the game.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“They were going at us and we were going at them,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We just had to sustain it. We just tried to block them out and play the game.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Dodson said playing in the championship will give the team a boost heading into the NCAA tournament.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It will be like a new steppingstone for us,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s another accomplishment for this year and will do a lot of good for our confidence heading into the tournament.Ã¢â‚¬Â
DeAndre Liggins has also been giving Kentucky a lift off the bench, but was glad to see Dodson carry the load, especially in the second half. DodsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s eight points were part of KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 15 points off the bench.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He made a couple of shots, got going and opened up the game for us,Ã¢â‚¬Â Liggins said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“He got a little confidence and I am sure heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to carry that over into the next game.Ã¢â‚¬Â