Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
SEC report: Bama hits century mark with ease
Alabama forward Brandon Miller (24) goes to the basket past Georgia guard Justin Hill (11) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
FAYETTEVILLE — Alabama responded to its only conference loss of the year with an historic beatdown of long-time rival Georgia on Saturday.
The No. 1 Crimson Tide tied a school record with their fifth 100-point game of the season while posting their largest margin of victory ever against Georgia with a 108-59 rout at Coleman Coliseum.
No. 10 Tennessee felled Alabama 68-59 last Wednesday to snap the Crimson Tide’s 12-0 start in conference play.
“That was another great game after a loss that I thought our guys came to play, and hopefully we don’t have too many more of those [losses],” Alabama Coach Nate Oats said.
“I do feel like our guys got themselves mentally ready to go after we lost to Tennessee. We came out of the gates and the starting guys got us off to a great start and extended the lead.”
Brandon Miller became the fastest player to reach 500 points in school history with 21 points, his 10th 20-point game of the season, against Georgia. Miller joined James Robinson and Collin Sexton as the only Alabama freshmen with 500-plus points.
Alabama, 13-0 at home, has three SEC wins by 40-plus points — also 106-66 over LSU and 101-44 over Vanderbilt — to become the first SEC team since Kentucky in 1955-56 to achieve that feat. The Tide’s victory margin following its four losses is 32 points per game.
The Crimson Tide (23-4, 13-1), which dropped a spot to No. 2 in Monday’s Associated Press Top 25, travels to South Carolina on Wednesday to face a Gamecocks team that has no SEC home wins under first-year Coach Lamont Paris before hosting the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday.
In and out
The SEC is now up to eight participants in the projected NCAA Tournament fields by some analysts, based on recent surges by Kentucky and Mississippi State and Texas A&M’s sustained climb.
SEC leader Alabama earned the No. 1 overall seed in the first early rankings determined by the NCAA Tournament selection committee on Saturday.
Kentucky has moved solidly off the bubble and into a 9 seed for CBSSports’ Jerry Palm, who lists Mississippi State as an 11 seed and one of the last four teams in the field with a play-in game projection against USC.
He also includes 1 seed Alabama, 3 seed Tennessee, 7 seed Missouri, 9 seed Auburn and 10 seeds Arkansas and Texas A&M in his Monday projection.
ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi released his latest projection last Friday, and he had Mississippi State as the first team out of his field, but that was before the Bulldogs’ 69-61 overtime victory at Ole Miss.
Lunardi had Alabama as the No. 1 overall seed, and included six other SEC teams in his bracket: 3 seed Tennessee, 8 seeds Auburn and Missouri, 9 seed Texas A&M, 10 seed Arkansas and 11 seed Kentucky as one of the last four teams in.
Texas A&M (20-7, 12-2) continued its hottest start in SEC play with Saturday’s 69-60 win over Missouri in Mizzou Arena. The Aggies, who entered The Associated Press Top 25 poll at No. 25 on Monday, have won five in a row since an 81-70 loss at Arkansas and seven of their last eight.
The Aggies clinched back-to-back 20-win seasons under Coach Buzz Williams as Wade Taylor scored 21 points and Dexter Dennis posted a second-consecutive double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Texas A&M has won 19 of its last 22 games against SEC opponents dating back to last year. The only losses came in road games at Kentucky and Arkansas this year, and a 65-50 setback to Tennessee in last year’s SEC Tournament final, which snapped a seven-game winning streak.
Texas A&M is 5-2 against Missouri under Williams, including 3-0 on the road.
The Aggies won the rebounding battle 41-23 on Saturday.
“It’s so critical for us,” Williams said. “I understand the numbers. We play the percentages more than we do numbers. Our offensive rebound percentage … was 59%. That’s a big part of what helped us overcome our turnover rate. We also did a really good job on the defensive glass.”
Texas A&M hosts Tennessee tonight, then travels to hot Mississippi State on Saturday.
Kentucky, Mississippi State and Texas A&M finished off two-game sweeps of conference opponents on Saturday.
Kentucky netted the most impressive of the sweeps and continued pointing in the right direction down the stretch with a 66-54 win over No. 10 Tennessee to finish off a road-and-home sweep of the Volunteers.
Mississippi State claimed a sweep with a 69-60 overtime win at Ole Miss. The Bulldogs, who went 4 for 4 from the field in overtime, also beat the Rebels 64-45 in Starkville, Miss., on Jan. 7.
Texas A&M won its third consecutive game at Mizzou Arena 69-60 on Saturday after taking out the Tigers 82-64 in College Station, Texas, on Jan. 11.
Kentucky improved to 160-77 all-time versus Tennessee with its first season sweep over the Vols since 2012.
“I’ve said all along we were going to break through,” Kentucky Coach John Calipari said. “We’ve had two losses that you would like to have back.
“We’ve had other games … but, you know what, none of that matters now. Everything is us going forward. So we have a tough game. We got road games, two tough road games. We got two tough home games. Play the games. Let’s see how we are. Let’s see if we get healthy. Let’s see if we get better.”
Vanquished by Vandy
Coach Jerry Stackhouse’s Vanderbilt Commodores are 5-0 since absorbing a 101-44 shellacking at Alabama on Jan. 31.
The Commodores have been winning nail biters, including three victories by three points or less, as their scoring margin is -5.33 in the last six games.
Vandy extended its streak with a 67-65 win over Auburn on Saturday on Ezra Manjon’s layup with less than a second remaining at Memorial Gym. The Commodores won despite shooting 35.7% from the floor.
Liam Robbins has three double-doubles in the last five games after scoring 24 points with 12 rebounds in the win over the Tigers.
Arkansas improved to 4-2 against teams from the SEC East with Saturday’s 84-65 win over Florida. The Razorbacks have three games remaining against East teams, starting tonight against Georgia, which is 3-12 in road games against Arkansas.
The Razorbacks also travel to Tennessee next week and host Kentucky in the regular-season finale on March 4.
Arkansas split a pair of games against Missouri, won at Kentucky and South Carolina and lost at Vanderbilt in their previous games of that description.
Home sour home
South Carolina and Ole Miss, who have traded road victories against each other this season, are the only conference teams who have failed to win a league home game.
The Gamecocks are 0-7 at Colonial Life Arena, with an average losing margin of 19.9 points in SEC play. The closest call for South Carolina came in a 65-63 loss to Arkansas in which 7-footer Josh Gray missed a three-point try at the buzzer.
Otherwise, the Gamecocks have been dumped by double digits six times, including setbacks by 43 points against Tennessee (85-42) and 41 points against Texas A&M (94-53) in their first two SEC home games.
The Rebels have lost their seven SEC home games at The Pavilion at Ole Miss by a combined 49 points, an average of 7.0 per game. The last of those was a 69-61 fall in overtime to arch rival Mississippi State on Saturday.
Both teams have two more shots to thrill the home crowds, but notching that elusive win won’t be easy. The Gamecocks host Alabama on Wednesday at 8 p.m. (ESPN2) and Georgia on March 4 at noon (SEC Network).
The Rebels host LSU on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (ESPNU) and Texas A&M on Feb. 28 at 8 p.m. (ESPNU).
LSU needs a win on Wednesday to dodge tying a historic low light.
The Tigers have lost 14 consecutive games since opening conference play with a 60-57 win over Arkansas. That’s one loss shy of the school record of 15 straight losses, set late in the 2016-17 season under Coach Johnny Jones.
That team, which had lost assistant coach Eric Musselman two years prior, won 88-77 at Missouri on Jan. 4, then lost 15 in a row until a 92-82 win over Tennessee on March 1.
Jones was fired six days after the Tigers wrapped up a 10-21 season with a 79-52 loss to Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tenn., leading to the hiring of Will Wade.
This year’s club (12-15) under first-year Coach Matt McMahon, had lost 10 consecutive league games by 10-plus points before falling 65-63 at Georgia last week, following by an 82-73 home loss to South Carolina. Their overall losing streak of 14 games includes a 76-68 setback against Texas Tech in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Jan. 28.
The Tigers host Vanderbilt on Wednesday with a shot at snapping the Commodores’ five-game winning streak. They also travel to Ole Miss and Florida and host Missouri down the stretch.
Texas A&M guard Wade Taylor and Kentucky forward Chris Livingston received SEC player of the week honors from the conference on Monday.
Taylor, a 6-foot sophomore from Dallas, averaged 19.5 points, 5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2 steals in wins over Arkansas and Missouri to earn the SEC Player of the Week nod. The SEC’s leader in free throw percentage, Taylor connected on 13 of 15 tries from the line in the two games, including a 10-for-10 effort in the road win at Missouri.
Livingston, a 6-6, 220-pounder from Akron, Ohio, was named SEC Freshman of the Week after averaging 12.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in wins at Mississippi State and against Tennessee last week. Livingston scored all of his 13 points in the second half against Mississippi State, then notched his first career double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds against the Volunteers.
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