NEW ORLEANS -- Marquis Teague didn't need to make the free throw to redeem himself. Kentucky's freshman point guard was polishing off a nearly faultless performance when he stepped to the line with 14 seconds to go.
The Wildcats held a three-point lead over Florida when Teague was fouled by the Gators' Kenny Boynton and time winding down. At that point, there was no doubt in Teague's mind about what was going to happen next.
"I told my team I was going to knock them down," Teague said after the game. "I said, 'Don't worry about it. I'm going to knock them down.' That's what I did: stepped up, was confident, and knocked them down."
The free throws pushed Kentucky's (32-1, 16-0 Southeastern Conference) lead to five, all but icing the 74-71 win over the Gators (23-10, 10-6 SEC). Teague finished with 15 points and five assists while shooting 6-9 from the field.
It was a far cry from his previous performance, when he had two points, five assists and four turnovers in his SEC Tournament debut, a 60-51 win over LSU on Friday. After the LSU game, Teague said he "struggled all around," the freshman bounced back to help lead the Wildcats.
It came with plenty of help. Head coach John Calipari pulled Teague during the game and assured him he had just gone through an off day. Later, freshman forward Anthony Davis visited Teague at the team hotel and told him to keep his head up.
Calipari took a special interest in his point guard as well. They spoke at the hotel, and the message was the same. He encouraged Teague to look for his shot when teams gave him looks and he took the ball in transition.
Teague regained his confidence quickly.
"He told us it would never happen again," Davis said. "He got all these open looks and made the plays for us. Made the right passes. The elbow jumper was falling for him today. When he gets going, it's really hard to beat us."
Teague finished 6-9 from the field, distributing the ball to teammates and choosing his shots carefully. He'd fared well against the Gators earlier in the season, but not with the pressure in those blowouts that he played with on Saturday.
"He's got a toughness to him," Calipari said. "He's got an edge to him. I felt very comfortable with him going to that foul line late."
Teague went on the offensive from the start. After the Tigers used a physical style of play to attack Kentucky early on Friday, Teague came out prepared to attack.
By then, he'd put Friday's frustrating performance behind him.
"I said yesterday I wasn't worried about Marquis too much because of the type of player he is and the type of guy he is," senior Darius Miller said. "I know he's a competitor and I knew yesterday's game would drive him to play extremely well. That's exactly what he did."
Teague had his only double-double of the season in the Wildcats' first game against the Gators. He finished with 12 points and 10 assists in UK's 78-58 win at Rupp Arena on Feb. 7. It was a high point in the season for the freshman, who had struggled at times but become more consistent of late.
All that fell apart against LSU, when Teague failed to score a field goal for the only time this season. Calipari told Teague later that he'd be fine.
Calipari pulled Teague aside after Saturday's game as well. But the message was different than the day before.
"He told me, 'That's the way you play,'" Teague said.
Kentucky has beaten Vanderbilt twice this season, but neither win came easily. The Wildcats dominated the first half of their meeting in Nashville, then had to rally from a second-half deficit for a 69-63 win. The Commodores hung tough at Rupp Arena before falling 83-74, a game Vanderbilt led 37-36 at halftime.
After Florida's 74-71 loss to UK in Saturday's semifinals, Gators forward Patric Young suggested the Wildcats aren't in good condition. The Cats admitted some fatigue after their second game in two days, but said it won't be an issue moving forward. Still, it could be a concern in UK's third game in as many days. Four of the Cats' top five scorers play at least 31 minutes per game, including Marquis Teague (32.3) and Anthony Davis (31.5) .