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SEC Notebook

December 3, 2002 Conference Notes No Comments

SEC Notebook

by Rainer Sabin

As the college football season slowly draws to a close, the 2002-2003 basketball season is heating up. Several SEC teams showcased their talent over the Thanksgiving weekend while participating in early season tournaments. Kentucky and Florida competed in the Maui Invitational and Preseason NIT, respectively, while Alabama made a trip to Springfield, Mass. to play Ohio State in the Hall of Fame Tip-off Classic.

In the tropical paradise of Maui, the Kentucky Wildcats, a team that has been besieged by distractions the past two seasons, was able to maintain focus and make some strides in a tournament chock full with competitive teams. Despite losing their second game to Virginia, 75-61, the Wildcats, which had opened the Invitational with an 82-65 thumping of Arizona State, came back and defeated a formidable Gonzaga squad in the consolation game.

Kentucky quickly corrected the mistakes that plagued them against the Cavaliers-most notably the uncharacteristically dismal 2 of 22 shooting from behind the arc – and adopted some of the principles that Gonzaga holds dear-rebounding and defense. The Wildcats held their three opponents to 40.1 percent shooting accuracy, and showed they were able to withstand the absences of regulars Cliff Hawkins and Erik Daniels. Hawkins was deemed academically ineligible for the semester, while Daniels was suspended by the NCAA for participating in more than one summer league during the off-season.

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith told the Lexington Herald-Leader that the Wildcats would have to play an up-tempo game that relies on team cohesiveness in order for them to be successful. So far it has worked.

Florida makes a trip to the Garden

While Florida did not take home the Preseason NIT championship, it did leave a lasting impression at Madison Garden in New York. The Gators, which had lost to Stanford 69-65 in the semifinals of the tournament, came back and defeated No. 2 Kansas 83-72 in the consolation game. Freshman Matt Walsh continued to produce offensively, as he poured in 22 points, while senior Matt Bonner matched his effort with the same total. Walsh, who was named SEC Player of the Week and ESPN.com’s National Player of the Week after he averaged 21.7 points and 5.7 assists in three previous wins for the Gators, has wasted little time in making an impact in Gainesville.

Dandy Vandy – Commodores off to Good Start

In a season of early surprises and upsets, Vanderbilt, a team that normally finds itself nestled at the bottom of the SEC East standings, has played well in its first four games. The Commodores dismissed non-conference outposts Southeastern Louisiana, Alabama A&M, and Georgia Southern by a combined 86 points before losing to No. 12 Connecticut 76-70. Vanderbilt held its own against the Huskies, who needed a late rally to hold off the Commodores, which shot only 2-15 from three-point range. Forward Matt Frieje scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the losing effort.

Tide Barely Rolling

It was not the prettiest of victories, but it was a win. Fourth ranked Alabama defeated Ohio State 54-48 at the Hall of Fame Tip-off Classic in Springfield, Mass., despite shooting just 17 percent in the second half. Alabama, which was prone to going ice cold during games last season, was able to outlast the Buckeyes as Antoine Pettaway, who scored 11 points, hit several timely shots that secured the Crimson Tide’s advantage. The inconsistent Tide had previously beaten Alabama State as well as Oklahoma and will be playing St. Bonaventure and Providence in its next two games.

Thwarted Rebels

Ole Miss is enduring a rocky start as it split its first two games against lackluster competition. East Carolina defeated the Rebels 65-58, as the Pirates rallied from a 27-24 halftime deficit. Three days later, Ole Miss was barely able to hang on to a win over George Mason, as it snuck by the Patriots 56-49, despite the fact that it converted only 7 of 16 free throws. Forward Aaron Harper was the leading scorer in both contests, as he scored 15 in the loss and 12 in the win.

Border Rivals Take Down Hogs

It was a week to forget for the Arkansas Razorbacks, as they failed to build on the momentum generated from an 81-44 blowout victory over Jackson State. After destroying the Tigers, the Hogs were dismissed by two teams from Oklahoma-Oral Roberts and No. 24 Tulsa. Arkansas shot 8 of 32 in the second half against Oral Roberts, which spelled doom for the Razorbacks, who lost 76-64. Four days later, the Hogs played better, but still suffered a defeat as the Golden Hurricane beat Arkansas 61-60. Point guard Eric Ferguson’s mid-court three-point attempt clanged off the rim as time expired, and Tulsa survived the scare. Arkansas is 1-2 and will face Illinois this Saturday.

Around the Rest of the SEC

Mississippi State recovered from its shocking loss to Louisiana-Lafayette and took out non-conference lightweights Jacksonville and McNeese State with ease. Meanwhile, the Mario Austin question remains unanswered . . . Georgia suffered its third loss this season to Minnesota in heartbreaking fashion. Tied at 69, guard Michael Bauer hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer that gave the Gophers a victory. Right now, the Bulldogs are reeling with a disappointing 2-3 record after five games . . . Tennessee had a close brush with disaster when it barely survived against Garner-Webb, a team that just entered the Division I ranks three years ago. The Volunteers were able to escape with a 71-69 victory in its season opener, and subsequently disposed of VMI 88-56 in their second contest. Meanwhile, Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson learned that little-used junior forward Andy Ikeakor had decided to transfer to a different school . . . Nineteen points from Collis Temple III was not enough for LSU, as the Tigers lost their first game of the season to Texas A&M 79-77. A last-minute rally was too little, too late for LSU, which is currently 3-1 . . . South Carolina has begun the season in fine fashion as it opened the new Carolina Center with wins over three non-conference outposts-East Tennessee State, South Carolina State, and Appalachian State. Chuck Eidson was the leading scorer in each of the games and set the school’s all-time record for assists against Appalachian State. Eidson also recorded a triple-double against South Carolina State . . . After securing easy wins over Wofford and Georgia State, Auburn was dismantled by Western Kentucky 89-70. Forward Marco Killingworth led the Tigers with 21 points, while guard Marquis Daniels added 18 in the losing effort. Fortunately for the Tigers, a series of non-conference lightweights dot the schedule in the coming weeks.


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