published Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Wildcats compared to UK's best

  • photo
    Vanderbilt forward Jeffery Taylor (44) drives against Kentucky forward Anthony Davis (23) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn. Kentucky won 69-63.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

SEC RUNAWAYS

Kentucky leads the SEC basketball standings by 3 1/2 games with five games left. Here are the league's most lopsided races of the past 50 years:

YEAR / WINNER (W-L) / RUNNER-UP (W-L)

1996 Kentucky (16-0) Miss. State (10-6)

1970 Kentucky (17-1) LSU (13-5)

1986 Kentucky (17-1) Alabama/Auburn (13-5)

1987 Alabama (16-2) Florida (12-6)

2003 Kentucky (16-0) Florida (12-4)

It's no longer a matter of Kentucky winning the Southeastern Conference in basketball this winter but whether the Wildcats can run the table.

Kentucky put a sizable chasm between itself and the rest of the league with triumphs last week over Florida and Vanderbilt. The Wildcats are 11-0 in league play and are off before hosting Ole Miss on Saturday, and they are five wins away from becoming just the third team since 1957 to post a perfect SEC run.

"We are not talking in those terms," coach John Calipari said Monday. "It might happen. It might not happen. My concern is, 'Are we improving as a team?' From what I'm seeing right now is that we are."

Kentucky went 16-0 in conference contests in 1996, when the Wildcats won the national championship under Rick Pitino, and again in 2003 under Tubby Smith.

This year's Wildcats, who are 25-1 overall and ranked No. 1, have home games remaining against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Georgia and road games left against Mississippi State and Florida. The Gators are a distant second in the league race with a 7-3 mark, while MSU and Vandy are tied for third at 6-4.

Florida's Billy Donovan is the dean of SEC coaches and puts this Kentucky version up there with the '96 bunch that had Tony Delk, Antoine Walker and Walter McCarty, and with Calipari's team two years ago that had John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson.

The 2010 Wildcats had five first-round NBA draft choices, and Donovan has stated that this year's team could have six with freshman forward Anthony Davis, sophomore guard Doron Lamb, freshman forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, sophomore forward Terrence Jones, freshman guard Marquis Teague and senior guard Darius Miller.

"This Kentucky team is a very, very good team and has played very impressively," said Donovan, who coached the Gators to national titles in 2006 and '07. "They're a good-shooting team but they're not a great-shooting team -- they shot it very well against us -- but if they have a bad-shooting night, they can still do it defensively, posting up or getting to the free-throw line.

"I think what really makes a special team is when you have a variety of different ways to win. I think they can win in a slow-down game or a fast game. They can win in really almost any kind of situation that they're in."

Vandy coach Kevin Stallings agrees with Donovan in praising the Widcats and particularly Davis. The 6-foot-10, 220-pounder from Chicago is averaging 14 points and 9.9 rebounds and has racked up 127 blocks.

Davis is a candidate for national player of the year, as well as freshman of the year and defensive player of the year.

"I can't imagine that there is a more impactful defensive player in all of college basketball," Stallings said. "It would not surprise me in the least if he swept all those awards, and he would be very deserving."

Kentucky's practice Wednesday will be open to students and faculty and be televised by ESPNU.

Odds and ends

Alabama coach Anthony Grant said Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele likely would be back tonight against visiting Florida but top scorers JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell will remain suspended. ... Georgia senior guard Gerald Robinson Jr. was named Monday as SEC player of the week after averaging 20 points, 4.5 rebounds and three assists in wins over Arkansas and Mississippi State. ... Tennessee's Cuonzo Martin called Saturday's 75-70 win at Florida "our most complete game of the season." ... Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said playing Ole Miss last Thursday night had a "huge impact" on his team's showing in Saturday's home loss to Georgia, and UGA coach Mark Fox said, "I think we caught them at the right time."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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