Florida gets big opportunity vs. No. 7 Kentucky on Saturday
Here are a few things to watch in Southeastern Conference basketball this week:
GAME OF THE WEEK
No. 7 Kentucky (17-3, 6-1) at Florida (12-8, 4-3). Kentucky has a seven-game winning streak and is playing as well as just about anyone in the country. The Wildcats are one game behind No. 1 Tennessee and No. 19 LSU in the SEC standings. Florida has struggled at times this season, but has won three of its last four, including an overtime victory over Ole Miss on Wednesday. A win against the Wildcats would greatly enhance the Gators’ postseason resume. Another game to watch: Alabama (13-7, 4-3) at Auburn (14-6, 3-4). The Crimson Tide have a weird resume with wins over Kentucky, Mississippi State and Ole Miss (when all three schools were ranked) but a loss to Texas A&M. Auburn had lost three straight before a blowout win over Missouri on Wednesday.
How will the middle of the conference sort itself out? The SEC has divided itself into three tiers early in league competition. No. 1 Tennessee, LSU and Kentucky have separated themselves as the league’s three main title contenders. The bottom of the league is also defined with Vanderbilt winless in conference play and Missouri, Georgia and Texas A&M each 1-6. That leaves South Carolina (10-10, 5-2), Ole Miss (14-6, 4-3), Alabama (13-7, 4-3), Florida (12-8, 4-3), No. 22 Mississippi State (15-5, 3-4), Auburn (14-6, 3-4) and Arkansas (12-8, 3-4) all stuck in the middle. The next month should determine which of those teams in the middle earn NCAA Tournament bids, though South Carolina’s lackluster nonconference performance will be particularly difficult to overcome.
Tennessee’s current 15-game winning streak matches its longest in school history. The Volunteers also won 15 straight from February 1915 to January 1917. ... LSU beat Missouri 86-80 in overtime on Saturday despite trailing by 14 points with 2:14 left in regulation time. Since that 70-56 lead over LSU, Missouri has been outscored 122-68. Missouri followed up the loss to LSU by falling 92-58 to Auburn. ... Arkansas committed just four turnovers and blocked 14 shots Tuesday in a 70-60 victory over Georgia . That marked Arkansas’ third-lowest turnover total and fourth-highest block total in school history. ... Alabama’s 83-79 victory over No. 22 Mississippi State on Tuesday marked the Crimson Tide’s seventh straight home triumph over a Top 25 team. Since last season, Alabama has a 9-4 overall record against Top 25 teams. .
Kentucky’s PJ Washington has averaged 22.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2 blocks over his last three games. He’s shooting 53.2 percent from the floor and 50 percent from 3-point range during this stretch. He had 21 points and six rebounds against Mississippi State, 20 points and 13 rebounds against Kansas and 26 points and 12 rebounds against Vanderbilt. He’s the first Kentucky player to have consecutive 20-point, 10-rebound games since Julius Randle in November 2013.
ON THE WOMEN’S SIDE
Missouri’s Sophie Cunningham moved into third place on the program’s career scoring list with 30 points in a 74-65 victory over Auburn on Sunday. Cunningham also made six 3-pointers in that game and became the third Missouri player ever to make 200 career 3-pointers... Tennessee’s 74-65 victory over LSU on Sunday ended a six-game losing streak, the Lady Vols’ longest skid since 1970.