LSU-Kentucky Preview

BY foxsports • March 4, 2016

With Alex Poythress back and Derek Willis expected to return, Kentucky appears to be getting healthy in time to chase something it hasn't accomplished in 20 years.

Despite an inconsistent season, LSU stands in the way with a chance to not only claim a share of the SEC title but also secure the top seed in the league tournament.

As the visiting Tigers go after their first title in seven years, the 22nd-ranked Wildcats hope to avenge a January loss and claim their first back-to-back outright crowns since 1995-96.

In his third game back after missing five due to a minor knee procedure, Poythress made some positive strides with 12 points and 10 rebounds in Tuesday's 88-79 victory at Florida that helped Kentucky (22-8, 12-5) keep pace with No. 20 Texas A&M atop the SEC.

The senior forward, third on the team with 9.9 points per game and tied for the lead with 6.4 boards, looks to help the Wildcats win the title outright with a 37th straight home victory and an Aggies loss to a Vanderbilt team tied with LSU for third place.

"Winning any title that we can, SEC title would be the first step in our goal, then the next step would be to try to win the national title," Poythress told the school's official website.

Kentucky is also expected to have Willis back after missing three games with a sprained ankle he suffered in a 79-77 overtime loss at Texas A&M on Feb. 20. The junior was coming off a career-high 25 points with seven 3-pointers in his previous contest.

"I don't think I'll start him," coach John Calipari said. "I might. You know me."

Jamal Murray continued to make a difference Tuesday with 21 points and eight rebounds, while Tyler Ulis added 19 points and 11 assists.

Murray has been one of the nation's top scorers since the start of February, averaging 25.8 points while hitting 40 of 80 from 3-point range.

Ulis had 23 points and Murray scored 21 on Jan. 5 when the rest of the team totaled 23 on 8-of-25 shooting in an 85-67 loss at LSU (18-12, 11-6). The defeat was frustrating because Kentucky held Ben Simmons to 14 points - 6.5 below his average at the time - on five shots.

Tim Quarterman, however, stepped up with 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, Craig Victor II added 15 points and 12 boards and the Tigers held a 46-32 advantage on the glass.

Simmons starred with 22 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in Tuesday's 80-71 home win over Missouri, helping LSU move back into contention with its second straight victory following a 1-4 stretch. The freshman has averaged 22 points and 11.5 rebounds in his past four games.

"He can do a lot of things, (cause) mismatch problems," Poythress said.

Freshman Antonio Blakeney is averaging 23 points over his last four games for LSU.

The Tigers hope to earn a share of the title with a win and a Texas A&M loss. There are scenarios where they could be anything from a first to fifth seed in the conference tournament.

"Knowing where we were in the beginning of the year and that we are going into our last regular-season game only a game out of first place and we have an opportunity to win or tie for a championship... That's huge," coach Johnny Jones told the school's official website.

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