The Southeastern Conference Tournament will prove there’s more than one Larry Legend. In addition to Larry Bird, there’s Larry Conley, who will be Kentucky’s representative in the SEC Legends promotion.
Conley will be recognized when Kentucky plays Alabama in Friday’s quarterfinals.
Conley’s UK claim to fame is as a player on Rupp’s Runts. He later worked as a color commentator on telecasts of SEC games.
That latter role came to mind as Conley thought about the other “Legends” to be recognized at the SEC Tournament this year.
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“I actually broadcast 10 of the players’ games,” Conley said. “Damn, I’m getting old.”
Conley is 72.
Less is more
Until the SEC Tournament, Tennessee had not won two straight games since late December (against East Tennessee State and Tennessee State).
Less is more was how UT players explained victories over Auburn on Wednesday and Vanderbilt on Thursday. Now, the Vols, who haven’t won three straight games since November (Marshall, Gardner-Webb and Army) play LSU in Friday’s quarterfinals.
UT’s startling advancement reflected a radical change by Coach Rick Barnes in recent practices, the players said.
“He made us do all the talking,” Detrick Mostalla said. “Everybody starting communicating.”
Teammate Derek Reese said Barnes, who usually considers no detail irrelevant, turned control to the players.
“All he told us was this is the drill you’re doing,” Reese said. “He had never done that before. So I feel it puts more pressure on us. It actually made the game more fun and more free because it’s on us.”
Barnes said he sought to make the players feel more accountable and improve player-to-player communication.
“The biggest thing they did was start getting on each other,” the UT coach said.
When asked why he backed off, Barnes said, “Because it’s a players’ game, and this time of year is when players play.
“They were really playing for each other as opposed to trying to please me or the coaching staff.”
Vandy: NCAA or NIT?
Vanderbilt fell into postseason limbo with a 19-13 record.
Coach Kevin Stallings deferred questions about his team playing in the NCAA Tournament or NIT until another time.
“We’ll have to figure out what the best approach is and what all the possibilities are,” he said. “I haven’t thought about tomorrow because I expected to be playing tomorrow.”
Guard Wade Baldwin IV scored at the buzzer, well a millisecond after the buzzer, which resulted in a 67-65 loss to Tennessee.
“Live, I thought it was (good),” Stallings said. The referees checked the sideline monitor and ruled the basket no good. “That’s an almost impossible one to get wrong when they go back to review it,” Stallings said.
Baldwin was aware that Vandy lost to Tennessee in its first SEC Tournament game for a second straight year.
“It’s definitely embarrassing,” he said.
Tennessee point guard and leading scorer Kevin Punter was at Bridgestone Arena in spirit. He watched the game in his New York City home after undergoing surgery Tuesday to repair a stress fracture in his right foot.
The Vols hung his jersey at a locker, and spoke to Punter via Facetime after the game.
“We want to do it for him,” Reese said.
Despite a torn ligament in his right thumb, Florida center John Egbunu contributed eight points and nine rebounds in a 68-61 victory over Arkansas.
“If he doesn’t play, we don’t win the game,” Florida Coach Mike White said. “He was fantastic.”
After Wednesday’s shoot-around, White sounded pessimistic about Egbunu being able to play effectively. He attributed the player’s emergence to “adrenaline flowing.”
Egbunu will require surgery after the season.
“It’s a severe injury,” White said. “That’s why it’s just courageous for him to fight for his teammates and produce like he did.”
Still in Arkansas
Former guard Pat Bradley was Arkansas’ representative in the “Legends” promotion at the SEC Tournament.
In 2014, Bradley was inducted in the University of Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. The following spring, he was inducted into the state of Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson marveled at how Bradley grew up in Everett, Mass., and then stayed in Arkansas. He is a host of a Little Rock-based sports radio show.
“I remember when we recruited him,” Anderson said. “People said he couldn’t play for Coach (Nolan) Richardson.
Anderson recalled his reaction to this skepticism.
“Are these people serious?” he said. “This guy can shoot the cover off of it.”