SEC coaches praise No. 1 Kentucky, look forward to another shot at Wildcats in league tourney



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Georgia guard Kenny Gaines (12) reacts after foul call in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kentucky, Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in Athens, Ga. Kentucky won 72-64 and improved to 30-0. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)


Vanderbilt guard Riley LaChance shoots a 3-pointer against Mississippi during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Oxford, Miss. (AP Photo/Oxford Eagle, Bruce Newman)


NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Kentucky this. Kentucky that. The talk leading up to the Southeastern Conference tournament is all about the undefeated, top-ranked Wildcats.

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings says John Calipari has one of the best teams he has ever seen. South Carolina's Frank Martin calls it comical that some believe the Wildcats are struggling because of a few close league games.

To Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy, someone needs an "unbelievable" game to knock off the Wildcats.

Well, the SEC tournament this week offers teams in the league a last chance to hand Kentucky its first loss this season before the Wildcats head on into the NCAAs.

Kentucky's Big Blue Nation is expected to turn Bridgestone Arena into Rupp South, but this is the time of year when it's one-and-done.

"It's a one-game deal, different set of emotions," Martin said Monday. "That's the beauty of postseason basketball."


Some things to watch as the SEC tournament starts Wednesday night:

DOMINANT KENTUCKY: Yes, Ole Miss and Texas A&M took Kentucky to overtime the first week of SEC play, and LSU had a last-second shot bounce away leaving Big Blue Nation breathing a huge sigh of relief. But the Wildcats have trailed only 169 minutes, 53 seconds of the 1,255 minutes played this season, and they have been their best in marquee games.

BUBBLICIOUS: The Wildcats' NCAA tournament fate is secure along with No. 21 Arkansas and likely Georgia. Getting six teams into the tournament may need LSU, Ole Miss and Texas A&M to win at least once here — or more — to feel comfortable Sunday. LSU lost its home finale before upsetting Arkansas with a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Ole Miss dropped from a No. 3 seed to No. 6 playing Thursday night with an 86-77 loss to Vanderbilt in the Rebels' finale. The Aggies may have the most work ahead after losing their last two games by a combined five points, and leading scorer Danuel House's health is in question after spraining his foot a week ago in a loss at Florida. "Not getting a bye and playing on Friday really hurt us not taking care of business," Kennedy said.

WE NEEDED THAT DOUBLE BYE TOO: Georgia gets that extra day for a pair of ailing guards in Kenny Gaines (sprained left foot) and Juwan Parker (Achilles injury), even though playing Friday might still might not be enough time. LSU hopes sophomore forward Jordan Mickey can return from an injured left shoulder suffered last week against Tennessee. The Tigers won at Arkansas without Mickey in the regular season finale. "We're fortunate that we don't play until Friday, and hopefully, by then he'll be able to make a huge impact for us," LSU coach Johnny Jones said.

THE OTHER STREAKS: As January ended, nobody was colder than Vanderbilt as the Commodores ended the month with seven straight losses. Now Kentucky and Vanderbilt are the only SEC teams going into the tournament having won more multiple games in a row, and the Commodores have won five straight and are 8-2 since flipping the calendar to February. The SEC's top 3-point shooters have done it by letting it fly from outside the arc averaging 51 percent (55 of 108) during this run. "We don't want that to be a fool's gold for us ...," Stalling said. On the other end, Auburn has lost six straight.

BLUE MIST: With Nashville an hour's drive from the Kentucky border, the Wildcats will be painting the town blue. That said, Georgia coach Mark Fox noted a fan has yet to score a basket. "We'll worry about that if we're fortunate enough to play Kentucky," Fox said. "We'll worry about the monsters in uniform. That's enough to get your attention."

BOOKMARK NASHVILLE: The SEC has held the tournament in Nashville four times since Bridgestone opened, and now the league is settling in here. The SEC will come back here eight more times through 2025 with the only breaks coming in 2018 when the tournament is held in St. Louis and 2022 with a trip to Tampa.


AP Sports Writers Gary B. Graves in Lexington, Kentucky, and Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee, also contributed to this report.

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