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January 28, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Southeastern Conference Notebook

by Rainer Sabin

What is going on in Tuscaloosa? That is the question fans, reporters, and Alabama coach Mark Gottfried are trying to answer. On Saturday, No. 7 Kentucky (15-3, 5-0 SEC) walked in to Coleman Coliseum and handed the No. 23 Crimson Tide a 63-46 loss that highlighted Alabama’s offensive deficiencies. The Tide, which has lost five of its last seven ball games, produced its lowest output at home in 34 years. The last time Alabama scored so few points was 1969 when the Tide lost to Tennessee 70-43. Ouch.

In a nationally televised game broadcast by ESPN, Alabama (12-5, 2-4 SEC) put up a real stinker, as the Tide converted just 10 of the 42 shots it attempted against the Wildcats. Considering that forwards Erwin Dudley and Kenny Walker combined to miss all 13 field goals they attempted, it really is no surprise that the Tide were hard-pressed to light up the scoreboard.

During the first half, the Tide went twelve minutes between baskets, yet still was able to close within five, 26-21, before halftime. In the second stanza, Alabama’s offense continued to sputter, as the Tide was manhandled by Kentucky’s Marquis Estill inside the paint. Estill finished with 12 points, but more importantly, proved his worth on the defensive end where he repeatedly altered shots and disrupted the flow of Alabama’s offense. While Alabama continued to struggle, Kentucky pulled away in the second half and cruised to a comfortable win. “We had a pretty good effort down in Tuscaloosa,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said in a Monday news conference with the SEC. “I think our guys played pretty well. We didn’t shoot the ball well, but Alabama had a lot to do with that.”

The latest setback for Alabama showed just how far the Tide has fallen since it was ranked No. 1 in December. Since SEC play started, Alabama is tenth in the league in scoring offense and eleventh in field goal percentage. Meanwhile, Kentucky’s impressive victory in a hostile environment proved how much the Wildcats have risen since it lost to in-state rival Louisville in non-conference play. This was a tale of two teams headed in opposite directions.

Dogs Bite Tigers

Who needs a healthy Jarvis Hayes? Apparently, Georgia (12-4, 4-1 SEC) can survive without his full arsenal. With the All-American candidate hampered by a hip flexor that limited his mobility, Georgia was still able to earn an 85-79 victory over Auburn (15-4, 4-2 SEC) as Coach Jim Harrick sought contributions from his other players.

They didn’t disappoint. Guard Ezra Williams, who leads the league in scoring with 20.4 points per game in five league contests, tallied 19 points. Forward Steven Thomas added 16 points, as the Bulldogs were able to counter Auburn’s high-flying attack. Tigers’ forward Brandon Robinson scored a career-high 25 points and guard Marquis Daniels contributed 20 points. But it was not enough to outlast Georgia, which is currently first in the RPI rankings.

Auburn, which was ranked No. 24 last week in the Associated Press poll, has lost two consecutive games.

Bayou Bengals Broken . . . Again

LSU (12-5, 1-4 SEC) continued its tumble in the SEC West standings, as the Tigers fell into last place in the division with a 67-64 loss to No. 21 Mississippi State (12-4, 2-3 SEC) Saturday. The Bulldogs almost blew a 12-point advantage with 55 seconds remaining. Trailing 65-53, the Tigers made a trio of three-pointers, which proved more devastating as Mississippi State failed to convert the front end of two one-and-one opportunities.

After Bulldogs’ point guard Derrick Zimmerman hit two free throws, the Tigers were down 67-64. LSU guard Torris Bright’s last-second three-point attempt badly missed and the Tigers lost for the fourth time in five conference games.

The Tigers will return to the hardwood Wednesday, when they face No. 4 Florida in Baton Rouge. The Gators (16-2, 5-0 SEC) have not played since beating Vanderbilt last Wednesday and will be well rested. Florida is led by their two freshmen, Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson, who average 14.8 and 14.3 points, respectively.

Louisville Escapes with a Win

Eighth-ranked Louisville needed some last-minute heroics to pull out a 72-69 victory over Tennessee (9-6, 2-3 SEC) in a non-conference match-up in Knoxville last Saturday. Taquan Dean buried a three-pointer and Kendall Dartez hit a jumper that catapulted the Cardinals into the lead after coming back from a 12-point deficit. “I’m very disappointed,” Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson said. “Give Louisville credit for coming back in the second half with some big three-point baskets. We were completely worn out with about seven minutes left in the game. Give Louisville credit. They hit the baskets when they needed to”

For Peterson, it was just one of the many hard-luck losses he has suffered in his short career at Tennessee. In fact, it was second time in as many years that he watched the Volunteers succumb to the Cardinals in the final minute. Last year, Tennessee lost by one point, 73-72, when Reece Gaines nailed a three-pointer with 1.8 seconds left to cap a furious comeback that was aided by Louisville’s hot perimeter shooting. Coincidentally, it was Reece that led the Cardinals in scoring, with 22 points, in last Saturday’s victory.

Ole Miss Pulls Away, Beats Arkansas

Things fall apart. That has been the story for the Arkansas Razorbacks (6-10, 1-4 SEC) in close games this season. And it didn’t change Saturday. In front of 8,784 spectators at the Tad Smith Coliseum in Oxford, Ole Miss defeated Arkansas for the sixth consecutive time, 73-54.

With 12:05 remaining in regulation, the Rebels (12-4, 3-2 SEC) embarked on a 12-0 run, which transformed Ole Miss’ precarious 47-46 lead into a sizable 59-46 advantage. Benefiting from Arkansas’ sputtering offense, which failed to score for nearly seven minutes, the Rebels created a margin too wide for the Hogs to close. The Razorbacks’ lack of productivity betrayed them late in the second half, as Arkansas was unable to convert a field goal for over eleven minutes. As a result, the Hogs could not sustain an early second half run that closed a 10-point halftime deficit to one. Instead, Harper and Ole Miss forward Justin Reed, the game’s high scorer with 17 points, helped stifle Arkansas and establish a wider gap.


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