Florida chasing SEC tourney seed against No. 6 Kentucky
Here are some things to watch as the Southeastern Conference concludes the regular season:
GAME OF THE WEEKEND
No. 6 Kentucky has clinched the regular season title and the tournament’s No. 1 seed, while No. 17 Auburn and LSU have also secured double byes with seeding to be determined for next week’s tournament in Nashville. One seeding remains up for grabs, and Florida (19-11, 11-6) can claim it by beating visiting Kentucky in a nationally televised rematch in Gainesville. The Gators are tied for second with Auburn and LSU and can earn the No. 2 seed with the tiebreaker in hand over both schools if they win. Florida has won six of eight overall and seeks to avenge a 65-59 road loss to the Wildcats two weeks ago. Kentucky (24-6, 14-3) looks to regroup from blowing a 17-point, second-half lead in Tuesday’s 81-73 loss to Tennessee.
South Carolina (10-7) tied Mississippi State for third with Tuesday’s 83-71 win over the Bulldogs, and both schools will likely need at least two more victories to boost NCAA Tournament prospects. The Gamecocks (18-11), 61st in NET rankings, visit last-place Vanderbilt with an outside chance to claim one of the top four spots in the SEC. Winning that matchup and another in Nashville gets them to 20 as they seek an at-large bid. Mississippi State (19-11) ranks 52nd but missed a chance at a needed Quadrant 1 win by losing to Carolina. The Bulldogs not only have to beat rival Mississippi, but also go deep next week to reach the Big Dance for the second consecutive season. The SEC sent seven teams to last year’s tournament.
Kentucky’s loss to Tennessee ended its 129-game winning streak the past 10 seasons when leading by double digits at halftime, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Meanwhile, the Volunteers’ win in Rupp Arena was just their sixth overall but second in three seasons. … Saben Lee’s 38-point performance against Alabama is Vanderbilt’s second best on the road in school history. Clyde Lee posted 41 at Kentucky on Jan. 2, 1965. … Mason Jones’ 36 points against LSU was the Arkansas junior guard’s eighth game this season with at least 30. The SEC scoring leader (21.8 points) is one 30-point game away from tying Todd Day for second most in school history and two shy of Martin Terry’s single-season mark set during the 1972-73 season.
Tennessee forward John Fulkerson has scored at least 20 points four times over the past nine contests after entering his junior season with none. The 6-foot-9 made 10 of 15 shots for the second consecutive game — including his first seven — on the way toward a career-high 27 points against Kentucky. The Volunteers (17-13, 9-8) have won consecutive games since mid-January. Fulkerson’s output came five games after his previous best of 25 at South Carolina. His 62% shooting ranks second in the SEC and 11th nationally in NCAA Division I, and he’s 15th in the SEC with 176 rebounds. Fulkerson is averaging career highs of 13.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 30 minutes per game.
ON THE WOMEN’S SIDE
Top-ranked South Carolina, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Texas A&M have double byes as the top four seeds in the SEC Tournament and will open quarterfinal play on Friday in Greenville, South Carolina. The Gamecocks (29-1, 16-0) enter with a school-record 23-game winning streak as they pursue their fifth tournament title in seven seasons. … Kentucky sophomore Rhyne Howard was named SEC Player of the Year in voting by conference coaches, while South Carolina’s Dawn Staley earned her fourth Coach of the Year award. Gamecocks forward Aliyah Boston was chosen as the top defensive player and freshman, and Kentucky’s Chasity Patterson was named Sixth Woman of the Year. … Mississippi State freshman guard Aliyah Matharu had career highs of five 3-pointers and 24 points off the bench as the Bulldogs beat Mississippi 84-59 in their season finale.