The Wildcats just keep on winning in SEC play

Updated: February 28, 2008

Mark Zerof/US Presswire

Kentucky has won nine of its last 10 games. Is it enough for an at-large?

Key Shot

Kentucky isn't supposed to talk about making the NCAA Tournament. There is no directive to keep quiet, just a request from the staff to focus on the next game and not get caught up in the euphoria that the Wildcats could be on the verge of a remarkable in-season turnaround.

But as much as the Wildcats try to say the right thing, they can't ignore the elephant in the room: If they continue to win, like they did Wednesday night against Ole Miss to move to 10-3 in the SEC, then making the NCAA Tournament may not be so far-fetched.

"It's tough not to look at it with all the media attention," Kentucky senior guard Ramel Bradley said by phone after the Wildcats' 58-54 victory over the Rebels at Rupp Arena pushed them to 16-10 overall.

Kentucky started the season 4-5 and entered the new year at 6-6 with home losses to Gardner-Webb and San Diego.

So, you can understand why even the thought of making the NCAA Tournament is hard to repress.

"It would mean so much for our team, for our university, for me and Joe [Crawford] because we're seniors," Bradley said. "Everybody doubted us and it looked like the program had taken a step back but over time we got better and were able to finish [games] off."

Kentucky's in-season injuries are well-documented. Derrick Jasper and Jodie Meeks have missed 11 and 14, games respectively, due to injuries. Patrick Patterson missed a loss at Houston with a bum ankle.

Still, what makes the SEC run more remarkable is that the Wildcats were obliterated at Vanderbilt by 41 points and still came back to win four straight.

"That first day of practice after Vandy was intense, we went hard for two and a half hours," Patterson said by phone Wednesday night. "Coach wanted to bring us back from being on cloud nine. We thought we were better than we were. We thought we could beat anybody, but the loss at Vanderbilt was a huge eye-opener. He wanted to kill us in practice. We went so hard in so many drills."

Patterson added that Gillispie rode the team hard for believing the hype. He said the Wildcats focused on defense as much as possible.

The Wildcats haven't given up more than 67 points since that 93-52 loss to Vandy.

All of the arguments against Kentucky's candidacy for an at-large are valid. They deserve to be scrutinized for a poor nonconference win total. Still the charge of the selection committee is to find the best 34 teams, and possibly the 34 teams playing the best basketball.

"I think we can be very difficult to play [in March]," Bradley said. "We're gaining steam."

Maintaining that buzz this weekend will be quite difficult. The Wildcats go to Tennessee, where the current No. 1 is coming off a loss to rival Vanderbilt. Tennessee's only SEC loss prior to the Vandy game was at Kentucky.

Debating Kentucky's at-large merits will take place in Indianapolis in two weeks. The Wildcats can only do one thing to help ensure its candidacy -- continue to win.

Key Notes

• Houston's Rob McKiver scored 52 points in the Cougars' 95-67 home win over Southern Miss on Wednesday night. That's the most points scored by a Division I player this season -- and the first 50-point game since Brion Rush of Grambling State scored 53 on Feb. 4, 2006. The total is a single-game record in Conference USA history.

• There were 52 teams in action on Wednesday night and two of them scored less than McKiver's 52 points. Bucknell lost 50-39 at Lehigh, and Oklahoma lost 63-45 at Nebraska.

• Florida Atlantic went to Troy and beat the Trojans 99-93, despite 42 points from Troy senior O'Darien Bassett. It was a career high for Bassett -- and before taking McKiver's night into account, Bassett's 42-point game would have been three points shy of the previous Division I season-high by Niagara's Charron Fisher, who scored 45 points a week ago.

• McKiver and Bassett were not alone in their 40-plus efforts. UAB senior Robert Vaden scored 41 points in the Blazers' 88-81 win at UTEP. There have now been 21 40-point games by Division I players this season. This is the first day with three 40-point scorers since Jan. 8, 2001.

Kentucky beat Ole Miss 58-54 on Wednesday to move to 10-3 in SEC play. Kentucky is a bubble team this season, but since the NCAA Tournament expanded its field to 64 teams in 1985, only two SEC teams that were eligible for the NCAA Tournament won 10 conference games and did not make the field of 64. Those teams were the 1985-86 Florida Gators and the 1989-90 Tennessee Volunteers.

• High Point's Arizona Reid recorded 34 points and 14 rebounds in the Panthers' 77-54 win over Radford. It was the senior's 44th career double-double, which is tied for the second-most among all active Division I players. UNC Greensboro's Kyle Hines also has 44, while Rider's Jason Thompson has 48.

• UNC Asheville beat Coastal Carolina 78-72 as the Bulldogs improved to 20-8 this season. It is their first 20-win season since 1985-86. They were led by 7-foot-7 Kenny George's 18 points on 9-for-10 shooting.

• During that game, Coastal Carolina's Jack Leasure tied a career high with nine 3-pointers. He now has 405 career 3-point FG, which is the Big South career record. He becomes the eight player in Division I history to make at least 400 career 3-pointers.


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On Tap For Thursday

• No. 17 Notre Dame at No. 18 L'ville, 7 ET (ESPN)
• No. 15 Michigan St. at No. 9 Wisc., 9 ET (ESPN2)
• Wright State at No. 13 Butler, 9 ET (ESPNU)
• USC at Arizona, 9 ET (ESPN)
• New Mexico State at Nevada, 10 ET
• No. 4 UCLA at Arizona State, 10:30 ET

For the full schedule, click here. All games on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Full Court also are on ESPN360.com.

Top 25 Scores From Wednesday

• No. 3 Memphis 82, Tulsa 67
• No. 6 Duke 71, Georgia Tech 58
• No. 7 Kansas 75, Iowa State 64
• No. 10 Georgetown 64, St. John's 52
• No. 19 Purdue 65, Minnesota 53

For all scores, click here.

Texas A&M romps Texas Tech

Cutting down the nets already

By Kyle Whelliston Special to ESPN.com

RICHMOND, Va. -- The evening at the sold-out Siegel Center began with a tribute to three outgoing VCU players on Senior Day and concluded with a pullaway 72-58 win for the home team over UNC Wilmington. With the win, the Rams (22-6, 14-3 Colonial) moved two games ahead in the league standings, clinching their second consecutive No. 1 tourney seed in the Colonial.

But the night wasn't done quite yet. After the final buzzer sounded, to the surprise of fans and players alike, the Rams broke out the ladders and scissors. It was the first net-cutting ceremony of the 2007-08 college basketball season.

The Colonial Athletic Association doesn't officially recognize a regular-season champion, and the league considers the tourney winner to be its true title-holder. But VCU head coach Anthony Grant allowed his relatively young team -- one that contains seven freshmen who weren't present for last year's NCAA first-round win over Duke -- to experience some temporary February Fever before March Madness begins in earnest.

"It's not every day that you win a championship," explained Grant. "We have seven guys who are having their first experience in college basketball. I've got to trust my veterans to let the young guys know that as good as this feels tonight. … It doesn't compare to what potentially could lie ahead of us. Get a taste of it tonight, enjoy it, see what it feels like, and then remember that going forward."

Duke knocks off Georgia Tech at home

Daily RPI

You've seen the polls, but how do the teams stack up in the RPI (as of Thursday morning), even after Tennessee's loss at Vanderbilt on Tuesday?

1. Tennessee
2. Memphis
3. North Carolina
4. Texas
5. Duke
6. Xavier
7. Vanderbilt
8. Kansas
9. Georgetown
10. UCLA
11. Connecticut
12. Louisville
13. Wisconsin
14. Drake
15. Marquette

FYI -- Washington State is the ranked team (22nd in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll) with the lowest RPI. The Cougars are 32nd in the RPI. Arizona has the highest RPI (17) of any unranked team.

For ESPN.com's full Daily RPI, click here. Insider

Greatest Players: No. 8 David Thompson