Sidelines with John Clay

Florida’s surprise loss puts Auburn atop SEC basketball, plus more links

Auburn’s Horace Spencer (0) dunks during the second half of the Tigers’ 91-73 win over Missouri in an NCAA college basketball game on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, in Columbia, Mo.
Auburn’s Horace Spencer (0) dunks during the second half of the Tigers’ 91-73 win over Missouri in an NCAA college basketball game on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, in Columbia, Mo. Associated Press

So, on Jan. 25 did you expect the Auburn Tigers to be atop the SEC men’s basketball standings?

I did not, yet there they are, Bruce Pearl’s Tigers, now 18-2 overall and 6-1 in the conference after their 91-73 win at Missouri on Wednesday night.

Auburn assumed first place after South Carolina rolled into Gainesville and shocked the Gators 77-72 behind 22 points from Wesley Myers. Florida fell to 6-2 in league play.

Up just five points at the half, Auburn outscored Missouri 50-37 in the second half, much the same way the Tigers blitzed Georgia 53-25 in the second half Saturday for a 79-65 win.

Jared Harper led the way with 21 points as five Auburn players scored in double figures in the win at Missouri, reported Matthew Stevens of the Montgomery Advertiser. Bryce Brown and Desean Murray scored 16. Mustapha Heron added 14. Chuma Okeke scored 10 points off the bench for the Tigers, who made 14 of 32 three-point shots for 43.8 percent.

“I’m not sure there’s a better (point guard) in the league,” Coach Bruce Pearl said of Harper. “I told him before the game that I need this one to be your best game and he delivered.”

Kentucky travels to Auburn on Feb. 14. UK, Tennessee and Alabama are tied for third in the SEC standings at 5-3.

In Gainesville, the gritty Gators were missing, wrote Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun. After becoming the fourth Florida team to win at UK since 2006 on Saturday, the Gators dropped one at home four days later. “It doesn’t make sense,” said Coach Mike White.

Florida made just six of 23 three-point shots in its loss to South Carolina. KeVaughn Allen was 3-of-9 from three. Jalen Hudson was 2-of-6 and Egor Koulechov was but 1-of-4. Florida shot 42.9 percent from the floor overall.

Meanwhile, South Carolina was unusually hot from three, making 11 of 21 shots from behind the arc. Myers was 5-of-7 from three-point range for Frank Martin’s club, which got 12 rebounds from Chris Silva.

SEC basketball results, schedules and leaders in a Google Doc

To the links:

▪ Bob Huggins is unhappy with his struggling Mountaineers, reported Justin Jackson of the Dominion Post. West Virginia has lost three of its last four heading into Saturday’s Big 12/SEC Challenge matchup with visiting Kentucky.

▪ Beating the Mountaineers in Morgantown will be a tough task for Kentucky, which hasn’t played at West Virginia since 1970. Still, it’s an opportunity for John Calipari’s young team to get what would be by far its best win of the season, said my column.

▪ Louisville fell in overtime at Miami 78-75, reported Jeff Greer of the Courier-Journal. Both of Louisville’s ACC losses have been overtime road games, at Clemson and at Miami.

▪ Having lost of nine of its last 10 games, the Kentucky women’s basketball team plays host to Alabama on Thursday night. Jennifer Smith of the Herald-Leader looked at how the Cats are coping with their struggles.

▪ Ben Roberts of the Herald-Leader reported on who Mark Stoops hopes to add to what will be his sixth football recruiting class at Kentucky. UK has just a few holes to fill after the early signing period back in December.

▪ Ben also talked to a draft analyst about where NBA scouts see Jarred Vanderbilt, UK’s freshman forward who has played in three games since returning from a preseason foot injury. Vanderbilt grabbed seven rebounds in just 11 minutes on Tuesday night, but made only one of seven shots.

▪ Vince Tyra says he’s interested in becoming Louisville’s permanent AD, reported Jeff Greer of the Courier-Journal. The school will apparently hire a search firm to look for a permanent replacement for the fired Tom Jurich.

▪ With a 67-62 win over Vanderbilt on Tuesday being the latest example, Rick Barnes and Tennessee keep winning the tough ones, wrote Mark Wiedmer of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

▪ Bill Self let down Udoka Azubuike and the Kansas basketball team in the Tuesday loss at Oklahoma, said Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star.

▪ Five takeaways from Duke’s win over Wake Forest on Tuesday, reported Jonathan M. Alexander. One involves center Wendell Carter who is averaging 18.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots over his last four games.

▪ North Carolina lost 80-69 at Virginia Tech on Monday night. So is complacency North Carolina’s biggest problem? asked Joe Giglio of the Raleigh News and Observer.

▪ Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said “obscene” coaching salaries need a cap, reported Ross Dellenger of The Advocate in Baton Rouge. “In addition to the 2017’s staff price tag of $9.4 million, the university is paying four staff members who are no longer employed at the school, including a remaining buyout of about $7 million to former coach Les Miles.”

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