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SEC Notebook

January 14, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

SEC Notebook

by Rainer Sabin

As the first part of the season drew to a close last week, it became apparent that one conference seemed to be slightly better than the rest. Featuring five teams in the Top 25 rankings, the SEC flexed its muscle, as its affiliated schools achieved success against teams outside of the conference. However, last week, when SEC play started, the nation really began to see how much quality existed within the conference.

“I think the best basketball league in the country is the league that’s best that year,” South Carolina coach Dave Odom said in a Monday news conference organized by the SEC. I don’t know if there’s a best basketball league every year. It always changes. If you look at RPI’s, Sagarin’s, then the SEC is the best league. Coming in, I knew that the SEC had great athletes. I didn’t know that they had great athletes with great talent.”

With the exception of Arkansas, which is undergoing a rebuilding year, parity defines the SEC. Any team can beat the other, and there really is no weakest link. Vanderbilt outlasted Alabama, No. 6 Mississippi State dropped its first two conference games, and Florida needed a game-winning three-pointer to beat Georgia at home. These were all headlines last week, and there are sure to be more as the season continues into March.

Strangely enough, one of the greatest eras in SEC basketball comes at a time when both Arkansas and Kentucky are not the top teams. The Razorbacks and Wildcats were once the cream of the crop in the conference. Now they must contend with Alabama, Mississippi State, Florida, and Georgia-not to mention up-and-coming teams like LSU and Tennessee. Currently, Arkansas has been forced to look up from the bottom of the standings, while Kentucky is realizing that its annual Eastern division crown is anything but a sure bet.

But that is what happens when a conference is as deep as the SEC is.

Florida Gets by with Buzzer-Beater

If he was not already a hero in Gainesville, he is now. Florida freshman guard Anthony Roberson did against Georgia what he has been doing all season—playing well in the clutch. Roberson buried a fall-away three-pointer as time expired to wipe away a 63-63 deadlock with the Bulldogs (9-4, 1-1 SEC) and gave the Gators (13-2, 2-0) an exhilarating 66-63 victory. Roberson finished with 23 points and canned seven trifectas, which proved to be enough to give him SEC Player of the Week honors.

For Georgia, it was the second time this season that a coup de grace was delivered via a game-winning, buzzer beating three-pointer. Georgia’s last loss before falling to the Gators Saturday came in the same fashion, as the Golden Gophers edged the Bulldogs 72-69.

Meanwhile, the Gators are off to their second best start in school history after they also downed Mississippi State last Tuesday in Starkville. And that could be partially due to the offensive foul called on Georgia that allowed Roberson to make his mark. With the game tied at 63, forward Jarvis Hayes, who finished with 25 points, was called for pushing off a defender. “We’re very, very fortunate,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “We’re very fortunate to win at Mississippi State, and we were very, very fortunate to win against Georgia. We’re very fortunate to be 2-0. Coming in, outside of Alabama, Mississippi State was the highest ranked team. But we know that we’re only two games in. We’ve still got 14 games to play.”

Vanderbilt Edges Alabama

Alabama (11-2, 1-1 SEC) hasn’t beaten Vanderbilt (8-5, 1-1) in Nashville since 1990. And that did not change Saturday. The Crimson Tide dropped its first conference game, as the Commodores pulled out a 70-69 victory. A tense final minute between both teams ended with students charging the floor at Memorial Gym. Matt Frieje scored 19 points in the win, while Russell Lakey hit three three-pointers that helped seal the victory.

His last trifecta gave Vanderbilt a 66-61 lead with 20 seconds left. Alabama was able trim the lead in the closing moments of the game, but failed to get over the edge. The Crimson Tide continued to struggle from the field, as it shot just 48 percent. Meanwhile, Alabama converted 7 of 15 free throws, and its poor shooting from the free throw line proved to be the difference. It is apparent that Alabama lacks a consistent scorer since guard/forward Rod Grizzard entered the NBA Draft after last season.

Tennessee Invades Oxford

In a wild conclusion to a thrilling game, Tennessee (8-3, 1-1 SEC) outlasted Ole Miss (9-4, 0-2) 66-64. Tennessee freshman Stanley Asumnu scored on a put-back with 2.6 seconds left to give the Volunteers their first win in conference play. The Volunteers, which had lost at home to Kentucky in its conference opener, forced Ole Miss into a shot-clock violation with 23 seconds remaining that set up the scenario that provided Tennessee with the win. C. J. Watson and Ron Slay, the SEC’s leading scorer, tallied 17 points each.

“Ron (Slay) has taken a business-like approach,” Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson said in a Monday press conference. “You can just tell that his approach is very different. He really worked hard in the summer to get his legs stronger. He’s just one of those guys who doesn’t mind putting the team on his shoulders.” Meanwhile, despite Aaron Harper’s 23 points and six three-pointers, Ole Miss’ streak of 20 victories at the antiquated Tad Smith Coliseum, also known affectionately as the “Tad Pad,” was ended.

LSU Pounds Bulldogs

No. 6 Mississippi State (10-3, 0-2 SEC) was flying high before conference play started. But since last Tuesday, when the Bulldogs faced Florida and lost 74-66 at home, they have come crashing down. LSU (11-2, 1-1) handed Mississippi State its most recent setback, as the Tigers defeated the Bulldogs 85-72, and proved that its win over No. 1 Arizona was not an aberration. The Tigers, which were stomped by Georgia, 89-83 in its conference opener, came back and put forth an impressive performance. Junior college transfer Jaime Lloreda continued to thrive, as he scored 19 points, while guard/forward Ronald Dupree added 18 for LSU. Mario Austin was limited by a sore knee he suffered in a collision in the game against the Gators. However, he still led the team with 17 points.

Arkansas Woes Continue

It was perhaps the worst game ever played by the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bud Walton Arena. In two halves, the Hogs scored an average of less than one point per minute, as Arkansas (5-8, 0-2 SEC) lost to Auburn (13-2, 2-0) 52-37. The Razorbacks managed to tally just 15 points in the second period. Yet, despite their offensive troubles, the Hogs were tied at 32 with the Tigers after guard Kendrick Davis banked in a lay-up with 8:26 left in regulation.

Nevertheless, Auburn’s Derrick Bird, who scored 10 points, helped the Tigers pull away and earn the ugly win. Arkansas, which shot just 35 percent in a 61-51 loss to Alabama last week, has some serious issues as far as production is concerned. Meanwhile, Auburn continues to be a pleasant surprise after beating Vanderbilt last Wednesday.

Kentucky off to Good Start

Kentucky (11-3) is enjoying a 2-0 start in SEC play after beating South Carolina 62-55 Saturday. Junior forward Erik Daniels, who tied a career high with 19 points, ignited a 25-6 run that provided an insurmountable advantage for the Wildcats with some marksmanship from both the inside and beyond the perimeter. The win over the Gamecocks was the Wildcats’ fifth straight since losing to Louisville 81-63 at Freedom Hall.

Meanwhile, South Carolina (7-5, 1-1) suffered from poor shooting, as it converted just 38 percent of its shots. Led by Carlos Powell’s 17 points, the Gamecocks could not muster a comeback. Nevertheless, the disappointment from the loss was tempered by a win over Ole Miss earlier in the Gamecocks’ SEC opener.


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