Blair Kerkhoff

Gators running away in SEC basketball race, Wildcats don’t care

Updated: 2014-02-18T14:31:40Z

By BLAIR KERKHOFF

The Kansas City Star

Had Kentucky’s halftime lead held up against Florida, the Southeastern Conference basketball race would be tight at the top, a one-game difference between the Gators and Wildcats with six to play, including a season-ending meeting in Gainesville.

But Florida roared back to win by 10 on Saturday, and now a canyon exists between the Gators and the rest of the SEC.

At 12-0 in the conference, Florida holds a three-game lead on Kentucky, four on Georgia and five on Mississippi. Everybody else has six or more losses.

The conference championship race isn’t mathematically over, but it practically is. But it means little either to the coach of the leader or the top pursuer.

“I don’t know if our guys pay attention to that stuff,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said. “Right now one of the great topics is bubble teams and seeding. There are six (regular-season) games and the SEC Tournament, a lot of ebbs and flows.”

But losing a three-game lead with six remaining, especially with Florida having won 17 straight, is seemingly impossible. Besides, Kentucky is already looking beyond the immediate future.

“I’ve never been big on conference championships or the conference tournament,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We prepare for March.”

As in the NCAA Tournament, and Kentucky also has two Final Four appearances under Calipari, including the 2012 national championship.

Kentucky has a trophy case loaded with SEC hardware — 46 regular-season and 28 conference tournament titles — and Calipari has two of each in his four full seasons at Lexington.

So, pre-NCAA play has some meaning at Kentucky.

But Calipari’s big takeaway from the Florida loss wasn’t that the Wildcats fell further back in the league race, but advanced as a threat in the NCAA Tournament.

“We played for 30 minutes as good as we’ve played all year,” Calipari said. “What the game showed me is we can beat anybody in the country. We have to shore up how we finish games off. It showed me our goals do not need to change. I’m happy with my team.”

Goals of deep March run, not a net-cutting ceremony to celebrate a league title.

Ranking the Big 12

• 1. Kansas

• 2. Texas

• 3. Iowa State

• 4. Oklahoma

• 5. Kansas State

• 6. West Virginia

• 7. Texas Tech

• 8. Baylor

• 9. Oklahoma State

• 10. TCU

•  Co-players of the week: Kansas front-liner Perry Ellis scored a career-high 32 against TCU, and averaged 25.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in two games. Ellis shared the award for with Baylor’s Isaiah Austin, who averaged 16 points, 6.5 blocks and 5.5 rebounds in victories over TCU and Kansas State.

•  Newcomer of the week: Baylor point guard Kenny Chery recorded the 14th triple-double in Big 12 history and the sixth in school history with 20 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds in the double-overtime victory over K-State.

Ranking the SEC

• 1. Florida

• 2. Kentucky

• 3. Missouri

• 4. Tennessee

• 5. Georgia

• 6. Mississippi

• 7. LSU

• 8. Arkansas

• 9. Vanderbilt

• 10. Auburn

• 11. Alabama

• 12. Texas A&M

• 13. South Carolina

• 14. Mississippi State

•  Player of the week: Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin averaged 22 points, four assists and 2.5 steals in victories at Tennessee and Kentucky. His 23 against the Wildcats was a career best.

•  Freshman of the week: South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell averaged 20.5 points as the Gamecocks went 2-0 against Vanderbilt and Alabama.

Blair Kerkhoff’s NCAA Tournament projection

SeedEast (New York)South (Memphis, Tenn.)Midwest (Indianapolis)West (Anaheim, Calif.)
1.SyracuseFloridaWichita StateArizona
2.CincinnatiDukeKansasSan Diego State
3.VillanovaWisconsinVirginiaTexas
4.CreightonIowa StateMichigan StateKentucky

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.

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