Cats will face hot foe in second round NASHVILLE — Whether Kentucky plays South Carolina or Alabama in the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Friday, the Cats will face a team riding a wave of confidence.
South Carolina won at Vanderbilt on Saturday in perhaps the most surprising result in the regular season.
"We probably played our best collective game of the year, all things considered," Coach Darrin Horn said. "And we're hopeful that we can carry that momentum and that confidence into tournament action."
In the last week, Alabama rallied from an 11-0 deficit to win one game and then beat arch-rival Auburn last weekend.
"Right now as a basketball team, we're pretty much hitting on all cylinders," Coach Anthony Grant said. "... So we're in a good place."
After Alabama beat Auburn, guard Mikhail Torrance said, "I think our team will be a scary team to play."
He did not back off that comment during Wednesday's news conferences with players and coaches involved in Thursday's first round.
"We've got two big wins coming into the SEC Tournament," Torrance said. "We had a great chance to win the couple games we did lose. So I just think we have a great chance on a neutral court to do a great job."
South Carolina had lost a season-worst six straight games before winning at Vanderbilt. As Horn explained it, the losing streak may have removed distractions from the players' minds.
"You know, I think it was the first game in a while where our guys were able to go out for whatever reason and focus on bringing what they can to the table," Horn said. "... When we do that, we've shown that we can beat the best teams in this league."
Stat of the day
Crediting his Sports Information man Fred Demerest, Florida Coach Billy Donovan came up with the statistic of the day.
Only two teams had a lead or were tied in the second half of every SEC game this season.
One of those teams is obvious: Kentucky, which won the regular-season title with a 14-2 record.
The other team is — surprise — Auburn.
The Tigers won only six SEC games, which has sparked speculation about Coach Jeff Lebo's job security."That says a lot about the margin of error being so little," Donovan said.
Lebo, who has had one winning SEC record in six seasons at Auburn, deflected a question about his job status. "As in most cases, when the season's over, I'll sit down with my A.D.," he said. "We'll have a conversation at that point. But that's it. That's kind of where it is right now."
Florida had a chance to join Kentucky and Auburn, but the Gators never led or tied against UK in the second half Saturday.
UK vs. Tennessee
Tennessee player J.P. Prince embraced having the SEC Tournament in Nashville.
"Just to have the tournament in Tennessee is a big thing for us because it's someplace our fans can come, and they're not far away, from both sides of the state," he said.
When asked if he thought Tennessee fans would outnumber Kentucky's famous fan following, Prince said, "I'm sure they'll try to outdo Kentucky in whatever they do. I'm waiting to see. We won't know until game time."
Why play tournaments?
The Selection Committee always talks about how it evaluates a team's "entire body of work" in determining the teams that make the NCAA Tournament and their seeding.
To back up that contention, the committee formally removed records in the last 12 games as a criteria in deciding who gets a bid and the seeding. Although chairman Dan Guerrero noted on a teleconference Wednesday that individual members are free to consider records in the last 12 games in their evaluations.
With that in mind, Guerrero downplayed the importance of conference tournaments in determining seeding and bids (with the obvious exception of teams winning these tournaments getting an automatic bid).
Conference tournaments are "a part of the puzzle," Guerrero said. But only a tiny part.
Guerrero noted that conference tournaments represent one percent of all games played in a season
UK's Greater Nashville Alumni Club chapter plans a pep rally Friday morning at the Wildhorse Saloon, 120 Second Ave. North. It's scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. CST.
The cost is $12 for pre-registered UK Alumni Association members and $15 for non-members. Signups are at www.ukalumni.net/sectournament or by callling (859) 257-7161.
For more information, contact Brad Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jill Smith at email@example.com or call 859-257-8906.