Sidelines with John Clay

Sunday notes: SEC basketball race, Ole Miss players kneel for anthem

Sunday notes:

SEC men’s basketball is now a three-way tie for first place between Tennessee, LSU and Kentucky. All three teams are 12-2. LSU has beaten both UK (73-71) and Tennessee (82-80). Kentucky beat Tennessee (86-69). And UK and UT play again this Saturday, March 2, in Knoxville.

Freshman guard Javonte Smart scored 29 points to lead LSU over the Vols on Saturday. Smart hit two free throws with 0.6 second left in overtime after the Vols’ Grant Williams was called for a foul when he ran into Smart trying to get a rebound. Smart was subbing for LSU’s star guard Tremont Waters, who missed the game with an undisclosed illness.

Of course, Kentucky rolled over Auburn 80-53 on Saturday. The Cats beat Auburn at its own game, making 11 three-pointers. In my column, I wrote that Kentucky is showing it has the right stuff for March.

Here are the remaining schedules for the three tied for first:


  • Feb. 26 Texas A&M
  • March 2 @Alabama
  • March 6 @Florida
  • March 9 Vanderbilt


  • Feb. 27 @Ole Miss
  • March 2 Kentucky
  • March 5 Miss State
  • March 9 @Auburn


  • Feb. 26 Arkansas
  • March 2 @Tennessee
  • March 5 @Ole Miss
  • March 9 Florida

Arkansas arrives at Rupp Arena on Tuesday night lugging a five-game losing streak. The Razorbacks lost 87-80 at Texas A&M on Saturday. Savion Flagg scored 22 points and Wendell Mitchell added 20 for the Aggies. Arkansas is now 14-13 overall and 5-9 in the SEC. Tuesday’s game with UK is a 9 p.m. start.

The other big story in the SEC on Saturday happened in Oxford, Miss. Several Ole Miss basketball players kneeled during the national anthem to protest a Confederacy demonstration being held a few hundred feet from The Pavilion on campus. Ole Miss went on to beat Georgia 72-71.

“The majority of it was just that we saw one of our teammates doing it and didn’t want him to be alone,” Ole Miss scoring leader Breein Tyree said. “We’re just tired of these hate groups coming to our school and portraying our campus like we have these hate groups in our actual school.”

Rebels’ coach Kermit Davis backed his players. “This was all about the hate groups that came to our community to try spread racism and bigotry,” Davis said. “It’s created a lot of tension for our campus. Our players made an emotional decision to show these people they’re not welcome on our campus, and we respect our players freedom and ability to choose that.”

Alabama snapped a three-game losing streak in beating Vanderbilt 68-61 on Saturday. The poor Commodores fell to 0-14 in the SEC with their 15th straight loss overall. Simi Shittu did have 16 points and 11 rebounds for Vanderbilt, who is now 9-18 on the season.

Mississippi State freshman Reggie Perry continued his surge, scoring 21 points in the Bulldogs’ 76-61 win over visiting South Carolina on Saturday. Since losing to Kentucky 71-67 on Feb. 9, Ben Howland’s Mississippi State team has won four straight to improve to 20-7 overall and 8-6 in the league.

Florida improved to 8-6 in the conference with a 64-60 win over Missouri on Saturday. The Gators have now won four straight games. KeVaughn Allen scored 17 points in the victory for Mike White’s club. Florida has a good chance to extend the win streak to five on Wednesday when it plays at Vanderbilt.

After having such a tough time making a perimeter shot for most of the season, Kentucky point guard Ashton Hagans is now an outside threat. Hagans has made multiple three-pointers in back-to-back games. He was two-of-four from three-point range in Saturday’s 80-53 romp over Auburn after making two of his four three-point attempts at Missouri on Tuesday.

All John Calipari wanted from PJ Washington was consistency. He’s getting it now. Washington has scored 20-or-more points in eight of UK’s last 10 games. He scored 24 on Saturday in the win over Auburn.

Maybe the biggest surprise Saturday, aside from the 27-point margin, was Keldon Johnson’s 17 rebounds. The 6-foot-6 freshman hit the boards to help make up for the absence of starting forward Reid Travis, out with a sprained knee. Travis was averaging 6.8 rebounds per game.

Kentucky baseball took its second straight loss to No. 3 Texas Tech, losing 10-7 to the Red Raiders. UK lost the series opener 7-4 on Friday. Nick Mingione’s team is now 3-2 and finishes the three-game set with a 2 p.m. ET game on Sunday. You can hear it on WBUL-FM 98.1.

It’s Senior Day for Kentucky women’s basketball. Coming off their huge win at South Carolina on Thursday, the Cats play host to LSU at Memorial Coliseum. It’s a 2 p.m. tip. You can hear it on WLAP-630 AM.

SEC men’s basketball standings

S Carolina9-514-13
Ole Miss9-519-8
Miss State8-620-7
Texas A&M5-912-14
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John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.
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