SEC REPORT: League's best test each other

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2019
Kentucky's Tyler Herro (14) reacts to a play during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. Kentucky won 86-69. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
Kentucky's Tyler Herro (14) reacts to a play during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. Kentucky won 86-69. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

FAYETTEVILLE -- The SEC's three heavyweights mixed it up among themselves twice last week, and two of that trio will meet again Saturday when No. 13 LSU plays host to No. 5 Tennessee.

Kentucky split a pair of home games against that duo last week, falling 73-71 to LSU on Kavell Bigby-Williams' tip-in at the buzzer last Tuesday, then pounding the formerly top-ranked Volunteers 86-69 at Rupp Arena on Saturday. The Wildcats rose to No. 4 in Monday's Associated Press top 25 poll after splitting the two games.

"We knew they were going to come out fighting," Kentucky forward PJ Washington said to the SEC Network about the Vols. "We were hungry since we lost our last game. We just tried to keep applying pressure. We knew we had them down, and we tried to keep them down."

LSU's only loss since an 82-76 setback at Houston on Dec. 12 came in a 90-89 decision against Arkansas at the Maravich Center on Feb. 2.

The Tigers rose six spots in the rankings after beating Kentucky and Georgia on the road.

LSU is the lone remaining SEC team with an unblemished conference road record after Tennessee's loss at Kentucky on Saturday.

The Tigers have played one more SEC road game than 12 other league teams, improving to 7-0 with Saturday's 83-79 victory at Georgia.

"We've been fortunate," LSU Coach Will Wade said. "I think we've won five of the seven road games by single digits, and have three overtime wins."

Indeed, the Tigers are 3-0 in overtime games in conference play, all on the road. LSU outlasted Arkansas 94-88 in overtime on Jan. 12, won 86-80 at Missouri after making up a 70-56 deficit in the final 2:14, and prevailed 92-88 at Mississippi State in an extra session.

"One thing that's highly underrated about our team is the guys really love each other and like each other," Wade said. "They like being around each other. When we're on the road, we get to spend more time together.

"When it's time to get down to business, our guys get down to business and hammer out the preparation. We've certainly been fortunate in some instances. But our guys have good chemistry, have a good way about them, and that's allowed us to hang in there on the road and stay close and stay connected and be able to pull some games out in the final six minutes."

Road raging

Three other SEC teams, in addition to LSU, have a winning conference road record.

Tennessee had been 5-0 in SEC road games before falling at Kentucky on Saturday. The Wildcats are also 5-1 in league road games, having gone 5-0 since losing their SEC opener 77-75 at Alabama on Jan. 5.

Ole Miss improved to 4-2 in conference road games after winning 60-55 at Auburn on Wednesday. The Rebels hit the road again tonight at South Carolina at 6 p.m. (SEC Network).

Georgia (0-6) and Vanderbilt (0-5) are the only SEC teams without a road win. Florida, Mississippi State and South Carolina are all 3-3 in league road games, while Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas and Texas A&M are 2-4. Missouri is the only SEC team with a 1-5 league road mark.

Cocky 3's

South Carolina has made a robust 40 of 69 three-point shots in its past three games. The sizzling 58 percent shooting from beyond the arc improved the Gamecocks accuracy to 41.8 percent in conference games, tops in the league.

The Gamecocks hit 10 of 15 (.667) in a 77-65 victory over Arkansas; 14 of 23 (.608) in an 85-73 loss at Tennessee; and 16 of 31 (.516) in Saturday's 84-77 victory over Texas A&M.

South Carolina Coach Frank Martin told the SEC Network the team's guards had to grow.

"We've got first-year guards," Martin said. "They're trying to figure me out and most important, I'm trying to figure them out. A.J. Lawson is growing a lot during the year. Tre Campbell is starting to play well for us, and Hasani Gravett has been a steady guy on our team all year.

"I said it earlier, we weren't as bad a shooting team as we were early in the year. I don't think we're a 70 percent three-point shooting team. But we're capable of making our fair share of shots."

Record 'Dores?

Vanderbilt can break the school record for consecutive losses if it cannot stop its losing skid this week.

The Commodores will take a 13-game losing streak into this week's games -- on Tuesday at SEC leader and No. 1 Tennessee and Saturday at Alabama.

Both games will be repeats. The Commodores led No. 1 Tennessee by six with 90 seconds remaining in what became an 88-83 loss in overtime Jan. 23. Alabama downed Vanderbilt 77-67 in Nashville, Tenn., on Feb. 9.

Vanderbilt lost 14 games in a row over the span of two seasons in 1934-35 and 1935-36.

Top 5 pairings

No. 5 Kentucky's 86-69 victory over No. 1 Tennessee on Saturday was the 11th matchup between top 5 SEC teams in league history, but the first since 2003.

Kentucky has been involved in all of those games, and the Wildcats improved to 8-3 with the victory at Rupp Arena on Saturday.

The Wildcats' 17-point victory was their second largest over the No. 1 team in The Associated Press poll, behind only an 81-40 trouncing of No. 1 St. John's on Dec. 17, 1951.

In the last meeting between top 5 SEC teams, No. 2 Kentucky downed No. 3 Florida 69-67 at the O'Connell Center on March 9, 2003, to close out a 16-0 run through the conference.

First time last

Arkansas and Alabama will play for the only scheduled time this year on the final regular-season date of March 9 at Walton Arena.

Interestingly, the Crimson Tide at Razorbacks is one of four games on that date that will pit first-time opponents.

Perhaps the most pivotal of those games will feature Tennessee at Auburn in a matchup of last year's SEC co-champions.

Texas A&M will meet Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., on that date, and LSU will host Vanderbilt on March 9 in the only meeting between those teams.

Rated right

Kentucky Coach John Calipari got animated when his team's student section began the tired "overrated" chant late during the Wildcats' 86-69 victory over No. 1 Tennessee at Rupp Arena.

Calipari demonstrably waved to the section to shut down the chant. The Wildcats travel to play the Volunteers in Knoxville, Tenn., on the final regular-season date March 9.

Calipari laid the praise on the Vols.

"Let me tell you, they are the No. 1 team in the country," Calipari said. "They are. They missed some shots they normally make. We gave them a chance, where we had them down big and all of a sudden it's 16, 15, 12.

"I know how good Tennessee is. That's why I told the fans enough of the, 'They're overrated.' They're not overrated. They're probably underrated."

The Volunteers fell to fifth in the AP poll on Monday, one spot behind Kentucky.

Crean vs. Howland

Georgia Coach Tom Crean will match up against Mississippi State's Ben Howland for the first time in 16 years when their teams meet Wednesday in Athens, Ga.

Crean pointed out their last meeting, which came in Marquette's 77-74 victory over Pittsburgh in an NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal on March 27, 2003.

Crean's Marquette team, a No. 3 seed, went on to thump No. 1 seed Kentucky 83-69 in the regional final before losing 94-61 to Kansas at the Final Four.

"We had an incredible game in Minneapolis," Crean said of the matchup against Howland's Pittsburgh Panthers.

"I'll tell you what, the last time we played against a Tom Crean team he had a guy named Dwyane Wade, who was pretty darn good," Howland said. "In fact in that game, I think he had two or four points at halftime and he had 22 [in the game].

"They were really good. They had four pros and went on to beat Kentucky and had a lead in that game by 20 or 25."

Top players

Kentucky's PJ Washington, Florida's Andrew Nembhard and Vanderbilt's Aaron Nesmith were recognized by the conference office as SEC players of the week Monday.

Washington, a 6-8 sophomore from Dallas, averaged 21.5 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.5 steals and shot 64 percent from the field (16 of 25) in home games against LSU and Tennessee. He had 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting and added 5 rebounds in an 86-69 victory over No. 1 Tennessee.

Nembhard, a 6-5 guard, and Nesmith, a 6-6 forward, shared SEC freshman of the week honors. Nembhard averaged 15 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in wins over Vanderbilt and Alabama. Nesmith averaged 25 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 steals in losses to Florida and Auburn, including a career-high 26 points against the Gators and a career-high 14 rebounds against the Tigers.

Rare at Rupp

LSU's 73-71 victory at Kentucky last Tuesday gave the Tigers their first triumph over a ranked Kentucky team on the road since Jan. 28, 1980.

LSU notched its sixth victory at Kentucky and its first since 2009, a year the Tigers claimed their last SEC regular-season title.

Ebb Tide

Alabama has averaged 57.5 points in its past two games, both losses, after posting its first back-to-back victories in SEC play.

The Crimson Tide lost 81-62 at Mississippi State last Tuesday, then took it on the chin with a 71-53 home loss to Florida on Saturday.

Alabama made a combined 41 of 94 shots (.436) in the past two games.

Back at you

Auburn beat Vanderbilt 64-53 on Saturday for its second consecutive victory in the series.

The Tigers had lost their previous nine games at Memorial Coliseum in Nashville, Tenn. Auburn will have to win a lot more in a row to match Vandy's recent winning streak in the series.

The Commodores had won 13 games in a row before Auburn notched a victory last season.

Tip-ins

• Auburn scored a season-low 55 points in a 60-55 loss at Auburn Arena against Ole Miss last week.

• The Missouri basketball team's travel plans Saturday were complicated by winter weather, forcing the Tigers to arrive at The Pavilion at Ole Miss about one hour before tipoff.

• Kentucky guard Tyler Herro posted his first career double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds in the Wildcats' win over Tennessee on Saturday.

Sports on 02/19/2019

FROM TOP TO BOTTOM

RANK;LAST WEEK;NET;TEAM (RECORDS);COMMENT

1;1;4;Tennessee (23-2, 11-1);Win streak ends at school-record 19 games

2;3;14;LSU (21-4, 11-1);At home vs. Florida, Tennessee this week

3;2;6;Kentucky (21-4, 10-2);Split vs. SEC's best at home last week

4;7;33;Ole Miss (18-7, 8-4);Puts 4-game win streak on line at S.C.

5;4;95;South Carolina (13-12, 8-4);Killing it from 3-land past 3 games

6;5;24;Auburn (17-8, 6-6);Averaging 68.3 ppg last four outings

7;8;27; Miss. State (18-7, 6-6);Veteran team should have better SEC mark

8;10;40;Florida (14-11, 6-6);Trying for second 3-game win streak at LSU

9;6;45;Alabama (15-10, 6-6);Wildly inconsistent, now trending down

10;9;66;Arkansas (14-11, 5-7);Miss. State flipped the turnover script

11;11;84; Texas A&M (10-14, 3-9);Scoring margin of -2 last 3 road games

12;12;89;Missouri (12-12, 3-9);Sub .500 1st time this year with loss vs. UK

13;13;128;Georgia (10-15, 1-11);SEC losing streak has stretched to 9 games

14;14;127;Vanderbilt (9-16, 0-12);Nearing record territory for consecutive losses

The NCAA has instituted a new rating system, the NET Rankings, which has taken the place of the Ratings Percentage Index. An acronym for NCAA Evaluation Tool, the NET rankings factor in game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency and the quality of wins and losses.

Game of the week

Tennessee at LSU, noon, Saturday (ESPN)

This will mark the third meeting between the top three teams in the SEC in a span of 11 days. How will the Volunteers respond after their school-record 19-game winning streak was snapped at Kentucky, knocking them off their No. 1 perch for the first time in a month? LSU notched a huge victory at No. 5 Kentucky last Tuesday and has lost at home just once.

QUOTEBOOK

"I know how good Tennessee is. That's why I told the fans enough of the, 'They're overrated.' They're not overrated. They're probably underrated." -- Kentucky Coach John Calipari

"I'm just really happy and excited we were able to come up with a really important Quad 1 road win here," MSU Coach Ben Howland after a 77-67 win at Arkansas

"We've had games where we look like one of the top teams in our conference. And we've had some games where we looked like we've never practiced before." -- Alabama Coach Avery Johnson

"I hate coming to you guys after games when it stays like this, but I am encouraged by some of the things our team did." -- Vandy Coach Bryce Drew after the Commodores' 13th consecutive loss on Saturday

By the numbers

4

Consecutive possessions with first-half turnovers for both Missouri and Arkansas in losses Saturday

7:45

Amount of time Alabama needed to hit its first basket in a 71-53 home loss to Florida on Saturday

8:27

Amount of time Arkansas needed to hit its first basket of the second half in a 77-67 loss to Mississippi State

11

Number of games between Top 5 teams in SEC history

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